PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. (File photo by Leila Kheiry)

Approval of a contract with a consulting firm to start work toward a new lease for Ketchikan’s city-owned hospital building was postponed again on Thursday by the Ketchikan City Council.

The council was split on whether to move forward with ECG Management Consultants. During a previous meeting, some council members were concerned about conflicts of interest, because the firm was working on other projects with PeaceHealth, which currently operates the local hospital, and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, which could submit a management proposal if the council decided to solicit bids from other providers.

On Thursday, city Finance Director Bob Newell said when the city started looking for a consulting firm about a year ago, only two companies seemed to provide the scope of services the city needs. The other firm already had a strong conflict of interest, he said, through its work with PeaceHealth. At the time, ECG didn’t.

“It seems like in this industry, everybody has worked with everybody. So, there’s always going to be some kind of potential conflict of interest,” he said. “Probably the best thing for us to do is try to see if we can’t manage that conflict, so it doesn’t interfere with the work that’s being done by whoever we choose to be our consultant.”

Since any company they might choose likely will have a conflict anyway, council members wanted to invite those that were rejected early on to give a cost estimate for the work.

The proposed contract with ECG is for the first phase of the project, and is estimated at $200,000. Council Member Mark Flora said that seems high.

“Phase one: Review the lease, go out and talk to the community — $200,000 plus 15 percent,” he said. “Looking at their proposal, which was based upon the steps that we asked for, I’m going to render a guess that’s the cheapest part of this whole thing.”

Council Members Dick Coose and Sam Bergeron supported the contract, saying it was important to move forward sooner rather than later. Flora and Council Members Julie Isom and Judy Zenge had concerns. Two other council members, Dave Kiffer and Janalee Gage, were absent.

In part because there wasn’t a full council, the motion was postponed. City Mayor Bob Sivertsen asked management to use the time to reach out to other consulting firms that might be able to do the work.

Also Thursday, the council voted to have the old fire hall on Main Street appraised before moving forward with selling it. The council previously opted against an appraisal.

The council also discussed the potential of an outcry auction to sell the building, using an amount less than the appraised value as the minimum bid.

In other matters, Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division Manager Andy Donato told the council that the city has been on diesel again because of cold weather.

The community will switch to hydro for a few days so that the diesel generators can get some maintenance work, but then the backup generators will come back on because Swan Lake needs to send power north.

Donato said Southeast Alaska Power Agency has determined that Ketchikan owes about 6 gigawatts to Wrangell and Petersburg for power that had been sent south earlier.

“Let me tell you what 6 gigawatts is. Give you an idea,” he said. “You know we have two Swan units, right? Wide open, low lake, we can get 20 megawatts total out of Swan Lake. If we did that for one hour, that would be 20 megawatt hours. They want 6 gigawatt hours, so multiply that by 300, and you’ll get that number.”

SEAPA owns the Swan Lake dam, as well as Tyee Lake dam. Swan primarily provides electricity to Ketchikan, and Tyee’s power is used primarily for Wrangell and Petersburg, but power can be shared through an intertie.

Also Thursday, the council approved increases for water, wastewater and electric rates. Nobody spoke during public hearings for those rate hikes.

The next Ketchikan City Council meeting is Feb. 7.