Ketchikan’s borough assembly discussed pot regulations Monday night. It also voted down a proposed resolution asking for the cleanup of a mine on the other side of the Canadian border.
Borough decision-makers spent more than an hour debating how to best manage Ketchikan’s burgeoning marijuana industry Monday. The discussion dealt with land use issues: mostly, how to best separate marijuana businesses from residential areas.
“What I do see folks nodding on is the concept that maybe we should be looking at some sort of restrictions around residential,” said assistant borough manager Deanna Thomas as she tried to read the will of the assembly. But it was a difficult task: assembly members didn’t come to a consensus on how exactly to best separate homes from pot shops and grow ops.
The assembly asked borough staff to look at a few potential ways to make that happen.
One option would be to prohibit marijuana businesses within a certain distance from people’s homes. Another would be to create a special zone — an overlay, in planners’ parlance — that would outline where marijuana businesses can be located. Still another option would be to strengthen the borough’s permitting process for pot shops and manufacturers.
The assembly asked borough staff to draw up several potential ordinances and bring them back for later consideration.
Existing businesses would be grandfathered in, so the 15 existing cannabis retailers, growers and manufacturers in the borough would be allowed to stay where they are.
Ketchikan marijuana businessman Mark Woodward told the assembly that he was concerned that new regulations could torpedo his company’s plans.
“Predictability is key with land use, especially for private industry who make a very large investment,” Woodward said.
Woodward said he’d invested in property on Gravina Island, where he planned to expand in the future. He said he was concerned that new regulations could make that impossible.
Borough management estimates it’ll take a few months before they have ordinances ready for formal consideration.
Mine cleanup resolution
In other business, the assembly rejected a resolution encouraging authorities in Canada to clean up the long-closed Tulsequah Chief Mine in British Columbia.
Rivers Without Borders — that’s the environmental advocacy group that submitted the resolution — says the mine is polluting the Taku River. That’s an important spawning ground for salmon.
Assembly member Alan Bailey questioned whether the resolution would do anything to inspire progress on the Canadian side of the border.
“I think we’ll have no effect whatsoever. This is simply a feel-good vote,” he said.
Bailey also said it wasn’t the borough’s place to ask a foreign government for specific action on its side of the border.
“This is frankly a State Department issue, as well,” he said.
But assembly member Felix Wong pointed out that governments in Petersburg and Wrangell had approved a similar resolution. He said it was residents’ responsibility to maintain the region’s natural resources — especially fisheries.
“It is well within our purview to do our best within the powers that we have to ensure that we take care of the resources that have fed us and sustained us long before settlers came here,” he said.
Wong and assembly member Austin Otos were the lone votes in favor of the resolution as it failed 4-2.
And finally, the assembly authorized a letter to state transportation officials for repairs on the South Tongass Highway. Borough mayor Rodney Dial told KRBD Tuesday that state officials agreed to fix the pothole-ridden road in the near future. He said repairs will likely start in the weeks to come when the weather allows.