Local News

Assembly finalizes transient tax, talks public notices, intervenes in hydro permit app, turns down TBPA request

The Petersburg Assembly during it’s March 4th meeting, finalized the borough-wide extension of the transient room tax. The so-called bed tax is a four-percent levy on the cost of visitor accommodations. The assembly unanimously approved the third and final reading of a measure extending the tax to the entire borough. It includes a special provision for lodges which offer deals combining a room with meals and fishing. The four-percent tax will only be applied to 15-percent of that lodge package cost. The tax generates about 40 thousand dollars a year which the municipality uses on visitor-related services and projects. Most of the money goes towards the local chamber of commerce which operates the visitor’s center. A portion also goes out in grants and the assembly approved several this week for an outdoor bench, direction flags leading to the Clausen Museum, a local photo library, an annual harvest calendar, and the compass movie theater.

Also Monday, the assembly again discussed criteria for posting public notices. The issue was prompted by a request from Keene Channel Resident George Cole on behalf of the group Concerned Citizens of the Unorganized Borough. In a February 9th letter, Cole asked for several additions to an earlier borough resolution on public notices. Cole said the borough’s current posting location at The Trees RV Park would not reach the majority of residents in the Papke’s and South Wrangell Narrows/Duncan Canal area. Cole wrote that the boardwalk to Papke’s landing dock is the historic and accepted place to post notices in the area. He pointed out there’s a new bulletin board there and urged the assembly to include it as a posting site. He also asked the assembly to specify where notices have to be posted in Petersburg’s harbor and asked for clarification on what constitutes a public notice.

Mayor Mark Jensen said borough staff had established a posting place for the harbor, “The harbormaster has picked a location right by the harbormasters shack right by the door. The office doesn’t have to be open for people to view the postings.”

According to Jensen, borough officials were still discussing what constitutes a public notice and whether to post those notices at the Papke’s Landing dock as well.

The assembly talked about the issue last month but postponed action until later this month so that area residents have more time to give input. No one from the public turned out to talk about the issue Monday afternoon. City Manager Steve Giesbrecht recommended the borough use upcoming votes on new ordinances as the standard for the types of issues that should require notice.

On Posting near Papkes, Giesbrecht explained why the borough had chosen The Trees RV Park, which is about a mile from the dock, ““We can fax the notices to them and they were willing to put it up on their bulletin board. It allows us a certain amount of flexibility in that we don’t have to spend money by sending staff out there to do this. They were willing to do that for us. I don’t live out there. So I want to be careful about what I say is appropriate and what isn’t but that sounds to me like a very acceptable method of posting this that’s in the area.”

Mayor Jensen noted that the bulletin board at Papke’s is at the end of the Pier, just before the ramp, which he saw as a potential problem, “The facility out there is a little old and I don’t think it gets shoveled in the wintertime. So, to expect a borough employee to drive down there and walk out the ramp and post a notice would be asking a little too much.”

Assembly member Cindi Lagoudakis, who lives out the road, volunteered to post notices at Papke’s dock when she could.

Overall, Assembly member Sue Flint thought the borough had a good selection of sites for public notices, “These are all posted by the door at the post office also and I know they all go there to get their mail. Anybody who lives at Papke’s or beyond or uses Papkes dock. So I think between that and the website and the harbor, we’re pretty well covered.”

The assembly took no action on the issue but will take it up once more during its March 18th meeting.

Meanwhile design work for the expansion of Petersburg’s existing crane dock could soon get underway. The assembly this week unanimously approved an $83,000 proposal from PND Engineers. The firm will draw up the plans, prepare permit applications and produce the documents needed to solicit construction company bids.

In other business, the Assembly voted unanimously this week to file a Motion to Intervene in the federal application process for another Washington State company that wants to build a hydroelectric plant at Thomas Bay near Petersburg.

Just over a year ago, the newly-formed company called Hydro Development LLC filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study hydro development at Swan Lake and Cascade Creek. Its proposal was nearly identical to that of Cascade Creek LLC. That Washington State company formerly held two consecutive permits which gave it six years of exclusive rights to the same site. Cascade Creek LLC lost its bid for a third permit in January, 2012 after FERC ruled that the company had not pursued development of its license application in good faith and with due diligence. The new company applied for the same permit the following month.

The City of Petersburg opposed the earlier Cascade Creek LLC plan and in its letter to FERC, the borough urges the agency to closely watch the new company to, “…ensure that it is not a sham filing by any entities associated with Cascade Creek LLC.” Hydro Development LLC has said it used publicly available information for its filing and has denied any business affiliation with the former permit holders.

Intervenor status gives the borough of Petersburg more say in the application process. FERC’s public comment period for the preliminary permit application closes March 18th.

And for the second time, the assembly turned down a ten thousand dollar budget increase requested by the Thomas Bay Power Authority. That would have meant a cost of up to five thousand dollars for Petersburg which splits TBPA expenses with Wrangell. TBPA’s manager had asked for the increase because an employee had just gotten married and that meant increased health insurance costs to cover the employee’s spouse.

The organization operates the Tyee hydroelectric plant that powers Petersburg and Wrangell. The plant is actually owned by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

Assemblyman John Hoag was willing to support the increase this year but he took the opportunity to question why TBPA exists and why the two communities should pay for it instead of SEAPA, “SEAPA owns the physical facilities. They’re not being run by SEAPA, they’re being run by Thomas Bay. We are contributing money to do that when that should be SEAPA’s responsibility. I think the discussion needs to begin for next year as to why we are contributing anything to Thomas Bay and whether Thomas Bay should continue to exist.”

Hoag and other assembly members agreed they should have that discussion with TBPA and SEAPA as well as Wrangell and Ketchikan. Representatives from those communities and Petersburg govern SEAPA. SEAPA has already gotten the ball rolling with a consultant’s report that recommended a single entity should run Tyee and Swan Lake. Swan Lake powers Ketchikan and is run by Ketchikan Public Utilities. But, like TYEE, Swan Lake is owned by SEAPA.

Hoag supported the budget increase for this year because he said he was uncomfortable using the higher health insurance costs as a vehicle to bring the broader issue to a head.

Assemblyman John Havrilek was among the majority of members who opposed the increase, “….and not because of wage increases or that this is connected to any insurance funds. I just believe strongly that we need to stick within our budget.”

Members Havrilek, Lagoudakis, Sue Flint and Mayor MarK Jensen went on to vote against the increase and it failed. Members Hoag, Nancy Strand and Kurt Wohlheuter voted in favor.

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