Elected leaders in Ketchikan are looking to change how the community manages its publicly-owned cruise ship docks, but they’re not yet sure what changes to make. That’s one takeaway from Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting.
In October, a split council voted 4-3 to scrap two proposals from private companies seeking to take over port management. That came after months of debate — two newly-elected council members ran on promises to keep management in the city’s hands.
But Council Member Dave Kiffer said Thursday that the debate over the port’s future revealed a point of consensus.
“Everyone pretty well conceded that we need to do things differently,” Kiffer said. “So I wanted to start the discussion of, how do we want to go there?”
One idea he floated was to form a port authority. That would be a separate local government body specifically in charge of the downtown docks. As it stands, the port is a city department directly controlled by Ketchikan’s City Council and city manager.
“There’s good and bad to having a port authority. One, we would, as a council, somewhat lose control of the port in that there would be another local body that would manage the port. We would not see revenues from the port, which would not be a good thing,” Kiffer said.
But on the other hand, Kiffer continued, a port authority could be set up to borrow money on its own tab. So if the port needed millions of dollars in upgrades to handle larger cruise ships, a port authority could borrow money without affecting the city’s ability to borrow for other projects.
Kiffer said he’s open to other ideas — but he said that the council should decide on changes to port management before replacing the city’s former port director, who retired earlier this year.
Council Member Abby Bradberry said she was leaning against the idea of a port authority.
“We had the opportunity to give the port to somebody else to manage so we didn’t have to worry about it. Doing a port authority kind of does that exact same thing, except we can choose who’s on there. So we’re still, the City Council is still going to be giving up that control aspect that the community wanted us to be involved in it and help set forth rates and so forth,” she said.
Mayor Bob Sivertsen said he favored hiring a new port director rather than creating a new entity. He asked Ketchikan’s city manager to distribute copies of the port director’s job description to council members so they could review it and propose changes at a later date.