Lew Williams III was appointed to a vacant seat on the Ketchikan City Council. Williams is the former city mayor and served many years on the council. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Former City Mayor Lew Williams III was appointed Thursday to fill a vacant seat on the Ketchikan City Council.

The council met in special session to fill the vacancy and to hear a presentation from Southeast Alaska Power Agency officials.

Williams is co-owner of the Ketchikan Daily News. He was one of two applicants for the seat. Spencer Strassburg, a local business owner, was the other. Strassburg has run for council three times.

In his comments to the council, Strassburg said he would provide a unique perspective. He added that many people voted for him in the last election, and the council should consider that.

“It’s from now until fall. It’s your least amount of risk,” he said. “If you thought this is too risky and you don’t care to have my leadership up there, this is the least amount of effort that you’d have to put into that. You guys can step up and try something new. A little bold, maybe risky, for whatever reasons. You can try it and look for some new answers for our future.”

In a four-person race for two open seats, Strassburg came in third in the most recent election.

Williams chose not to run for re-election this past fall due to health reasons. He told the council that he’s feeling good now.

“ Four and a half months, I’m healthy enough to do it. We’ll see what happens,” he said. “If I’m still healthy, I’ll probably run for borough mayor instead of city council, so you’ll get rid of me anyway.”

Before he was mayor, Williams served many years as a council member. Williams said his focus for the duration of the term would be on the downtown cruise dock expansion project.

The council filled out nominating ballots, and Williams received the majority. The council then voted on a motion to appoint Williams, and that passed unanimously. He took the oath of office and was seated immediately.

During the SEAPA presentation, CEO Trey Acteson told the council that the current dry spell for Southeast was a concern, but at this point it’s difficult to determine whether it’s the start of a long-term trend.

Power for the region is provided mostly through hydro. Drier than normal weather has persisted for more than a year, which has meant regular use of diesel generators, leading to higher power costs.

Acteson said SEAPA continues to explore options, including various kinds of renewable energy. However, he said, there currently isn’t enough data to show that a new project would be worth building. Plus, he said, the demand isn’t there.

“We have very slow load growth. Petersburg and Wrangell are fairly flat; Ketchikan continues to grow a bit,” he said. “That is really impacted by population.”

Without a new industrial customer that uses a lot of power, Acteson said it wouldn’t be financially wise to build a new project.

One option that could be less expensive and faster to construct is wind power. Acteson said SEAPA is doing preliminary studies in various locations to see whether that is feasible.

SEAPA is a wholesale power provider. It owns Swan Lake and Tyee Lake, and an intertie that connects the two hydro facilities. SEAPA sells power to Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg, and is governed by a board with representatives from those three communities.