Voters will be filling two seats on the Petersburg borough assembly next week and five local residents are hoping for your vote. It’s the only contested in the municipal election this year. The five discussed their opinions on a wide variety of local issues during a Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Monday night.

Candidates answered questions on issues ranging from the borough’s budget, to recycling and reality TV. One question was on what the assembly could do to support economic development.

Marc Martinsen suggested getting the word out about the water, land and electricity available here. “Reduce taxes, give some breaks to new businesses that move into town, power, land,” Martinsen said. “I know we’ve messed that up before. Get the word out. Hey, come to Petersburg. We’ve got all the land we need, we got cheap power, lots of water. Manufacturing of some kind. The sky’s the limit. We just have to open up the muskeg and put a road in.”

Taylor Norheim said he’d agree with tax breaks for some new businesses. “But I also don’t want to see the town get any bigger,” Norheim said. “It’s like what kind of economic development. Oh you know, Amazon headquarters, no. I don’t want that. If I wanted to live in a bigger town I’d move to a bigger town. I like the size it is now. So if we’re talking about maybe small business here and there, cool yeah, give some tax breaks, maybe try and get some more boats in the harbor, something like that.”

Nancy Strand suggested ideas come from the Petersburg Economic Development Council. “The PEDC is working on economic ideas about economic development, which people can come and testify at or discuss ideas. We need ideas,” Strand said.

Bill Tremblay said the community needed to advocate for better ferry service. “I mean especially with families even coming up, they used to be able to book in January to come up in the summer time, now the legislature wont even release their budgets until close to summer time,” Tremblay said. “In fact usually in May and June the ferry system is scrambling to rearrange people trying to come up here put them on different ferries because they can’t commit to what’s going on with the transportation system. I think that’s a huge thing for us.” Tremblay also thought affordable housing would help working families live in the community.

Bob Lynn had multiple ideas including seeking a reduction in shipping costs. “What can we do to reduce those I think that has to be an emphasis, to see what we can do because you can’t attract new businesses if they can’t get their raw materials in and their product back out,” Lynn said. “”Two, we talked about internet, well the internet I’d have to tell you is not up to down south standards. And so I think there has to be some changes in that. Along with that I think we need to do some work on our own infrastructure. I don’t think our infrastructure really supports what we need, what some of the businesses really need.” He also wanted to see short-term loans for new business start ups.

Candidates were also asked if they thought there was room for an expanded visitor industry in Petersburg, in light of a larger small cruise company looking for new port calls.

“I believe so I believe that as far as revenues go we need to start expanding,” Strand responded. “And it’s my understanding that this 900 visitors wouldn’t all be descending on town at the same time, maybe a portion of them would be lightered in. I like the idea of using the drive down dock to unload those lighter vessels but I do think we should encourage it and make whatever concessions it takes.”

“I understand tourism’s probably, I don’t want it to be the future for this town,” Norheim answered. “I see what it’s like in Sitka and Juneau when I’m there in the summertime and it’s a mad house and I have no interest in that being here at all. The small ships we have right now. I like that it’s fine you got a couple people walking around you don’t recognize but where do you draw that line? You’re gonna have this cruise ship come in and then another one’s gonna come in and Oh, we’ll get some more tourism money and then you’re wholly dependent on them. And every store downtown owned by the cruise ship company selling the same diamonds that they have in every other place. I don’t want that. So I am against it.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Lynn said. “We talked earlier about economic development in this town and we have a situation where our fishing industry has been talked about is no longer what it used so we have to look at other opportunities. I don’t totally want to go to tourism but I think it’s an opportunity that we’d have with one of that size for maybe some small start up businesses to help to do things here. So I guess I’m in favor to give it a try and see how it works. If it brings some revenues to this city and to our businesses I think it’s worth trying.”

“Many moons ago we had a referendum vote on the size of the boats that would come in and it was a lot smaller than some of the ones you see now,” Martinsen said. “And it passed 2-1. And it wasn’t a year after that referendum Tamico was down there putting in a (mooring) dolphin for bigger ships. My blood pressure goes up about 30 points when I see a cruise ship at that drive down. It shouldn’t happen. Not in the summer. Let them have their traditional spots, the city dock, come into below the ramp, north South Harbor. But keep them away from the drive down.” Tamico is a company owned by Martinsen’s family that does harbor and dock construction work.

“I would be in favor of seeing the additional ship come in because it does provide other potential revenues to our current businesses,” responded Tremblay. “I like the fact that it doesn’t sound like the size of the boat would mean that there’d be these predatory size of shops like they do in Sitka and Juneau and Ketchikan. I think they’d be able to maintain our current use of our own specific shops here. As far as the use of the drive down dock I understand some of the money that was used is to basically accommodate some of them down there with the drive down dock anyways. So, it’s a commercial use.”

Candidates were in agreement on many issues but differed in other areas. They came down on both sides of this past year’s reorganization of borough departments. However all five agreed that now that the decision’s been made the borough should continue in that direction and not revisit it. There was mostly opposition and not much support among the five for a local ban on plastic bags. There were different opinions on whether the borough should continue with a recycling program or let a private contractor take it back over.

A sixth candidate, Don Spigelmyre, has said he’s no longer interested in an assembly seat this year. That decision came past the deadline to withdraw, so his name will still appear on the ballot. If he’s elected anyway, he will have to decide whether to serve or decline the position. The top two win three-year terms on the assembly.

Listen to the full candidate forum here. Election day is next Tuesday and absentee voting is available through the borough clerk’s office during business hours through noon on Monday, October 1st.

For other elected positions, several local residents have filed paperwork to be write-in candidates. They are Mark Tuccillo for public safety board, Kathi Riemer for hospital board and Richard Burke for planning commission.

The polls are open next Tuesday, October 2nd from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the community gym activity room. KFSK will have unofficial results that evening.

In the interest of full disclosure Bill Tremblay is president of the KFSK board of directors.