The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday heard an update on the ongoing Gravina Access project, funded through the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The presentation focused on town-side terminal improvements. Kirk Miller is the design group chief with DOT. He said the project will include changes to Tongass Highway next to the terminal area.
“We’re going to widen Tongass highway, put a center lane down the middle,” he said. “Tongass Highway is every bit as important to this project as just the ferry berths. We really want to get people turning left, turning right, getting to the drop-off areas. All that’s a really big deal. We understand that.”
Miller said the plan also calls for covered walkways leading to an indoor, heated waiting area. There are two current plans, both quite similar. One has a waiting area that fits up to 80 people, and the other fits about 25. Both would include new restrooms, accessed through the waiting area.
The terminal has restroom facilities now, built fairly recently. Those would be torn down. The argument is people would rather have one combined, efficient facility.
While it’s technically a state project, Miller said the borough is in the driver’s seat. That’s because the borough will take over operations once construction is complete. He asked for input from the assembly.
The item wasn’t up for a vote, but during assembly comments later in the meeting, there seemed to be general consensus in favor of C-2, the option with a smaller waiting area.
Assembly member Stephen Bradford said that design places the waiting area closer to the ferry berth, and allows for more ADA parking. But also: “My primary motivation in preferring C-2, frankly, is my assumption that the long-term operating costs will be less under C-2 than C-1. If staff thinks I’m not correct in that assumption, I’d like some information to that effect in the materials for next meeting.”
In other matters, a letter to the editor (posted below) that assembly member Rodney Dial sent to the Ketchikan Daily News was discussed briefly during the comments portion at the end of Monday’s meeting.
In that letter, Dial expressed concern about what he said is a negative tone in the paper toward President Donald Trump. He wrote that the borough spends about $2,000 a month on public notices published in the Ketchikan Daily News. He wrote, quote “If you choose to push partisan and in many cases mischaracterized or fake news, my opinion is that the taxpayers should not subsidize the Ketchikan Daily News as a result.”
During Monday’s meeting, Dial apologized and said the letter could have been worded better. But he then read brief excerpts from columns published on the paper’s opinion page that he said show bias.
“This is what’s being printed about our president and people who voted for him and others: The most dangerous man in Washington, mooch, nutty or fringe, unhinged, unstable, divorced from reality, vindictive, out of control, appalling, psychopath, mental illness, apparent madman, mental instability, racist, toxic, deplorable, deplorables,” he said.
Dial said he supports the right of the paper to print what it wants, but can’t support it with his money or taxpayer money if it continues with “hate-filled” opinion pieces.
Bradford responded and said every individual citizen has the right to cancel a subscription.
“My concern comes when it seems to be tied with governmental action and any type of cutting back of expenditures to a publication based on the content of that publication,” he said. “I would hate to see governmental action dampen in any way the right of a paper to, frankly, publish anything that they feel is appropriate. That’s their decision and not government’s.”
Also Monday, the assembly talked about sales tax exemptions. One item that could come back to the assembly for review is the sales tax cap. That limits the sales tax collected on single-item sales.