In early September, four of the six candidates running for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly participated in a forum at a Chamber of Commerce Luncheon.
Borough Assembly candidates Dan Bockhorst, James Montgomery, Austin Otos and incumbent Felix Wong answered questions about economic development and natural resource management. Two candidates, Danielle Pratt and Sven Westergard, were unable to attend due to work commitments. The six candidates are competing for two open seats on the assembly.
During opening comments, moderator Carrie Starkey read statements from the two absent candidates. Pratt wrote that her campaign is based on a platform of listening.
“I am not too proud to admit that I don’t know everything, but I am an active and enthusiastic listener. I want to hear your thoughts, your hopes, your concerns, your advice, your expertise, your perspective and your story.”
Pratt stated she would support and advocate for the things which made her fall in love with the community, including the students, arts, history, environment and the people who live and work here.
Westergard, who was born and raised in Ketchikan, stated he’s not a polished politician, but would like to help the community be the best it can be.
“As a telephone lineman at KPU for the last 15 years, I’ve seen and felt the declines and rises of our community. We need careers and housing that will entice good people to move here or come back home. We need our representatives to do the right things for the right reasons.”
In his opening statement, Bockhorst says he believes he’s the candidate with the best qualifications and has time to commit to serving; Montgomery says he’s not a typical candidate and his focus would be on education, affordable housing, and the budget; Wong says he wants to advocate for a sense of community and education; and Otos says his focus would be on economic development and education.
Asked if they had any specific ideas for advancing and encouraging economic development, Otos feels mariculture is the future of the seafood industry. He also feels Vigor Alaska, which operates the Ketchikan Shipyard, offers development potential.
“I think Vigor is our key ticket that helped replace dwindling jobs from the pulp mill. And I really think that if we keep the contracts from the state coming to this company and Ketchikan, we could have a good line of people from the schools to get hired into this company.”
He says the tourism industry offers additional opportunities.
Wong says economic development can solve two problems – diversifying the economy and addressing the aging population.
“…encourage more entrepreneurship to kick-start ideas and accelerate them so that they can start hiring people and grow to the point where future Kayhi graduates can go pursue their fuller studies in the hopes to come back, and invest in our economy, grow our businesses and hence reduce the aging of our population and call Ketchikan ‘home’ once again.”
Montgomery supports pursuing new economic prospects, such as mariculture and aquaculture.
“If we would just go after them, we would see some unique opportunities which would bring new business and new culture and new monies and new growth. All we have to do is go after it. It’s there.”
Bockhorst says one thing the borough has done well is develop “important and sensible” fiscal policies. An example he gave is the number of property tax and sales tax exemptions.
“I don’t think there’s anything better that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough can do for economic development other than to maintain these exemptions. Just in terms of the sales tax exemption for senior citizens, that allows seniors to come here to Ketchikan and stay here in Ketchikan when they retire.”
He says the number of senior citizens living in the community has doubled over the last 20 years.
With regards to whether or not Ketchikan is facing any natural resource management issues, Montgomery says there are many hitting the community from all sides, including the ferry system, mining, and forestry.
“There’s a plethora of things that we have to deal with. Do I have the answer for it? No. Do I want to discuss it with everybody that I know of that I can discuss (it with) to figure out how we can address it? Yes. Do I have the answer? No. I wish I did. But I’m willing to figure out the answer and to try and fight for it so we have a way where we can be a part of the solution.”
Wong sees fishing as a big part of the economy and wants to see policies that preserve or enhance that industry.
“There’s no denying that the climate is changing in a way that affects the patterns of migration of the salmon. If there’s anything we can do to alleviate that, I’ll be looking forward to working through that.”
He also says a change in the Roadless Rule could revitalize the timber industry which he says he supports.
Bockhorst says three-tenths of the land in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough is privately owned, most in the Tongass National Forest. He says he hopes the Roadless Rule will be changed to open up more land to development.
“Timber has a great potential for our community. As far as fishing is concerned, that too is very important to our community and is a keystone currently of our community. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough, some years ago, did totally exempt taxes on personal property, and that was a big benefit to commercial fishermen.”
Bockhorst also believes there is a greater chance that a rare earth elements mine will open, adding to the area economy.
Otos wants to see development of timber, fisheries and mining. He says for mines to be viable, road access is needed.
“When it comes to mining, we need to pick areas that have environmental impact statement s that don’t conflict with our major salmon spawning streams. Historically, Alaska has been a state where natural resources are extracted, and they leave our state and we don’t get any benefit from it other than the companies that do it. So I think that building places here in Ketchikan to process minerals and to process the rare earth minerals that are coming from Bokan and Niblack is very important.”
In his closing statement, Wong says, if reelected, he will continue to have a boots-on-the-ground approach, meeting people face-to-face and attending events in the community.
Bockhorst feels it’s important for elected officials to be knowledgeable about issues they are deciding on, citing his 40 years of experience in local government, 10 in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
Montgomery says his goal is to be accessible, to listen to citizens and be a conduit to the assembly.
Otos says he is focused on two things personally – to get a younger demographic to vote and get involved, and to connect with citizens through attending events and community service.
Absentee voting is currently underway. The municipal election is next Tuesday, October 2nd.
Below is the complete recording of the September 5th Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon forum:
Following is a link to the a summary of KRBD’s forum held September 5th. A recording of the 2-hour forum is posted with that story.