Ketchikan’s Borough assembly narrowly voted Tuesday in favor intervening in a lawsuit to defend the Trump administration’s decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.
A legal challenge by Native tribes and conservationists seeks to reinstate the 2001 rule that puts restrictions on road building on national forest land.
Assembly member Jeremy Bynum spoke in favor of committing $5,000 in public money to defend the federal government. He argued the Roadless Rule locks up resources needed for Southeast’s economy.
“Outside of potential resource development, this has a big impact on our ability to continue exploring and expanding hydropower in the region.”
Assembly member Judith McQuerry expressed mixed feelings. Her family has been involved in the timber industry and she supports hydropower development. But she says she didn’t think the legal challenge would be successful.
“Added to that, we have a substantial portion of our population that don’t think this would be a wise expenditure of money including two of our Native and village corporation partners in borough government. So I can’t see my way clear to voting for this.”
Those partners are the Organized Village of Saxman and Ketchikan Indian Community, federally recognized tribes on Revilla Island.
In the end, the assembly voted 4-3 in favor of granting $5,000 to Juneau attorney Jim Clark, a former chief of staff to Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Assembly members McQuerry, Austin Otos and Felix Wong were opposed.
In other news, the borough assembly entered into a work session on sales tax projections for the coming fiscal year. Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao says a $3.2 million deficit was initially projected for this fiscal year which ends in June, but it was revised down to about $1 million. She says CARES Act funds helped fill the gap.
With Canada announcing the closure of ports, effectively eliminating the cruise season this year, Gubatayo projects losing about a third of its summer sales tax revenue, however it’s estimated the borough will still have $11.6 million in the bank at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
“We do have enough in reserves that, absent any other serious loss in revenue, we can continue to use reserves and maintain the same level of services that we’ve been providing.”
Gubatayao recommends putting non-essential capital projects on hold and not hiring seasonal workers. She and Borough Manager Ruben Duran said that would allow Ketchikan’s borough to avoid raising taxes and fees on residents.
And finally, the assembly unanimously approved a joint resolution urging Alaska’s congressional delegation to support exempting foreign-flagged cruise ships from having to call into a Canadian port before arriving or after visiting Alaska. It also asks for the federal Centers for Disease Control to issue guidance that would allow cruise lines to resume sailing. The resolution was adopted separately by the city councils of Saxman and Ketchikan this month.