Ketchikan’s borough assembly has waived its right to protest a controversial liquor license in the city of Saxman. The assembly also approved a revised resolution asking Canadian authorities to protect the Unuk River from mine pollution over the border.

Saxman liquor license

The liquor license application comes from a subsidiary of Saxman’s Cape Fox Native Corporation. Dockside Galley, a restaurant near Saxman’s city hall, would like to serve beer and wine and open a liquor store.

If approved by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, it will be Saxman’s first liquor license in the predominantly Alaska Native community. 

Local governments have the right to protest liquor license applications within their jurisdiction if it’s deemed not in the public’s interest.

Ketchikan Assembly member Sue Pickrell felt an objection was warranted.

“My feeling with regard to the number of alcohol permits and alcohol-dispensing places and packing stores in Ketchikan — we have enough,” she said during Monday’s meeting.

She was joined by Alan Bailey and Felix Wong.

A three-Assembly member bloc comprised of Austin Otos, AJ Pierce and David Landis voted against protesting the liquor license. Assembly Member Sven Westergard was absent. 

That left it up to Borough Mayor Rodney Dial to cast his first tiebreaking vote. He said he’d defer to the Saxman City Council which had already found no legal reason to oppose the license. 

“The community of Saxman has debated this issue. The folks in Saxman have had an opportunity to speak out on this issue,” he said. “The mayor and clerk have indicated that the public has the option to vote on this issue.”

Saxman city officials testified that some residents are openly planning a petition to hold a referendum to ban alcohol within the city limits. 

Transboundary mining resolution

In other business, the borough assembly approved a revised resolution asking Canadian authorities to better protect the Unuk River watershed from mine pollution. Environmental advocates say pollution from historic and active mines has had ill effects on the wildlife that rely on the Unuk, especially salmon. 

Misty Fjords National Monument, which includes the lower Unuk watershed, is also a popular tourist destination in the summer.

“Misty Fjords is one thing that you should be trying to protect. That’s one of the gooses that’s laying the golden eggs for Ketchikan,” said Malcom Doiron during public comment. He’s best known for naming the Misty Fjords and fighting for their protection as a national monument.

The original resolution was submitted by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council had called on British Columbia to hold a new environmental review for the proposed KSM open pit copper and gold mine near the Unuk’s headwaters 

It also invoked the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an intergovernmental agreement supporting native cultures. Canada signed onto the declaration in 2016 after a decade of opposing the pact. It requires Canadian authorities to account for policies’ effect on indigenous users who rely on the Unuk — that is, the KSM mine’s effect on downstream Canadian subsistence users.

(For its part, the United States dropped its opposition to UNDRIP in 2011 but only offers qualified support for the measure.)

Assembly member Alan Bailey took issue with the draft resolution’s tone at the assembly’s Nov. 25 meeting. The assembly sent it back for revision, and staff removed the resolution’s references to specific actions by the B.C. government, leaving only a generic call to protect the Unuk watershed. 

Doiron took issue with the toned-down version.

“What you’re going to do if you water this thing down, you might as well save your energy,” Doiron said. “Because the people on the other side of the border are not going to listen to you. They’re going to laugh at you.”

Bailey defended the revision, saying it’s in line with traditional borough language.

“Using reasoned language, we can be forceful, but yet appropriate in tone,” he said.

The revised resolution passed unanimously.

Land use issues

In other business, a resident’s proposal that would require the borough to notify neighbors within two miles of a planned outdoor gun range has been postponed. Current borough regulations require notice to be given to neighbors within 1,200 feet of a proposed outdoor range.

This comes after the assembly shot down a proposed rezone that would have allowed an outdoor gun range in the Ward Cove area. Several residents expressed concerns about noise and stray bullets near the popular Ward Lake recreation area.

The assembly also unanimously approved a developer’s request to defer property taxes on a subdivided tract of land on the west side of the city of Ketchikan. A 2012 state law allows the borough and city to do so in an effort to spur development.

The assembly also denied a proposed rezone in an industrial area of Ward Cove. The owner expressed interest in renting out a unit traditionally used for employee housing to the general public. But borough planning staff, the planning commission and neighbors agreed that the rezone could put future residents in harm’s way and expose the businesses to complaints.