Candidates for Ketchikan City Council participated in a forum at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  All four candidates vying for two open seats participated.

Sam Bergeron, Spencer Strassburg, Dragon London and incumbent Janalee Gage discussed their backgrounds, tourism and economic development during the approximately 50-minute forum.

The candidates were asked, given that some communities are reliant on a single industry, how they would work to keep Ketchikan’s economy diverse.  Bergeron says expanding hydroelectric power would increase opportunities.

“I think that we need to get together and to look and see what we can do to increase our hydro potential and get all of this stuff online. Plug in cruise ships. We have an opportunity for electric cars. What better place in the world than Ketchikan to have electric vehicles?”

Bergeron says Ketchikan could become a regional hub for power, transportation, shipbuilding, shopping and tourism.

Strassburg says “reliant” isn’t a bad word.  He says Ketchikan relies on tourism, and he would like to see the tourism industry grown, bringing more money to the community.

“If the city stepped up and we had bigger facilities, maybe if they bought Talbots instead of not being interested in going in that direction. We could take that building and divide it up into little spaces, and we could have a sales force there so that the artists can go home and make more art. That’s what’s wrong with this system. I’ve tried to make it work and I think there are ways we can make it work better in our town, and we could prosper from that opportunity. It’s all out there.”

London says mariculture is a new industry that can be expanded. She says efforts also  should be made to build and nurture existing businesses.

“And have open minds as to new industry. I know it’s been quite a shake up having the marijuana industry here, but the reality is, it is a money maker and we need to look at those kinds of opportunities for our community. We also need to retain who we have. So that’s a key issue for me – looking at how we can become competitive.”

Gage says she learned more about newer industries, such as mariculture and biomass energy, during Southeast Conference. She says there are other opportunities beyond tourism.

“There are things going on outside of the tourism industry that I believe could really keep things from getting centered on one industry which scares me, honestly, to death because we did this when the pulp mill shut down. We were all dependent in some way or fashion on that industry.”

Gage says she also would like to see more support for small, local businesses.

The candidates were asked their plans for promoting tourism while controlling the volume of visitors.

Strassburg feels the town can accommodate more tourists and that there will never be enough. He says better ways of dispersing traffic and moving tourists out of congested areas need to be developed.  Strassburg says there are creative ways to get more revenue from tourists. Though not suggesting the same practice be implemented, he gave an example of Disney World increasing revenue by selling special passes.

“And then I realized, ‘Holy cow. Look at all those other people who bought the same pass. I’m not really in the front of the line, I’m just in a preferred line.’ But god did they figure out how to make money out of it. And that’s what we have to do. We’ll figure out how to make the same thing Fort Lauderdale does if we’ve maximized our opportunities. We just haven’t explored it yet and we’re already talking about capping it! Come on. We can do better than this.”

Gage says there is a point where enough is enough.  She says the first step is to get ships to stay longer rather than add more ships. Gage says she’s concerned that if the number of tourists keeps getting larger, people will no longer want to come to Ketchikan.

“I truly believe that we have to be very careful in keeping our integrity, paying attention to the stuff that’s not real that’s being sold as authentic. I find that offensive. There are plenty of places starting to put a cap on the number of tourists coming to town.”

Gage says she enjoys having the tourists in town, but wants the community to look beyond tourism.

Bergeron agrees the city should work towards getting ships to stay in Ketchikan longer, rather than adding ships, allowing visitors to have time to take tours and shop.  He says it’s up to the community to decide what happens.

“We need to ask our own people how we’re going to deal with this. What can we do to improve our trails? What can we do to improve our traffic? We’re the ones that experience it day in and day out, and we need to start asking our own people the questions we have about our own island and fix our own problems internally.”

London is concerned that there is no uplands development plan. She says the community needs to look at moving tourist traffic.

“Sometimes that’s going to be moving them out of the downtown core area, that we have plans in place to make that happen, and that (needs to) be more than a line of buses at the cruise ships.”

London believes more tourists can be accommodated, but a plan needs to maintain Ketchikan’s historic character.

In closing comments, Gage says she is running because there are many things she’d still like to accomplish on the council and has compassion for the community as a whole.  Bergeron believes he is the best candidate because of his long history in Ketchikan, past experience in municipal government and work with the tribal community.  Strassburg says he supports and stands up for those in the community who are being bullied and not heard and wants to be their voice.  London says her role on the council would be to listen to constituents and to work with the city council members to make the best decisions for the community.

The municipal election is October 2nd.

Following is the complete audio for the September 19th Chamber of Commerce forum moderated by Carrie Starkey.