By a 4-3 vote Monday, Petersburg’s borough assembly gave the green light to a land swap with fuel company Petro Marine, for property along South Nordic Drive. The borough’s harbor department wants the Petro property for a maintenance building. But the proposed deal is not without its critics.
The fuel company approached the borough asking for the swap last year. Petro wants to take over land it’s leasing from the municipality, the site of the Southeast Island Fuel gas station and a warehouse behind. In exchange it’s offering property across the street from the community cold storage. That includes the site of a former fuel storage tank farm that was contaminated and cleaned up. Petro has told the borough the deal will help the company to consolidate its properties in one area.
Fisherman and harbor board chair Bob Martin urged the assembly to move forward with the deal.
“I can look the rate payers in the eye as the harbor board chair and say we looked at it. It makes sense,” Martin said. “It is expensive but, we’ve got to have a better facility for maintaining our harbors. Because I thought about when the budget came out, you know maybe this changes everything if the raw fish tax is affected but in the end we still have maintenance to do. The staff needs a place to get out of the rain, store stuff. It doesn’t really change what’s going on. Just like, have a bad season, I still got to maintain my boat. I can’t work out in the rain forever.”
Harbor staffers do their maintenance work and store supplies in a small room at the harbor masters office and container vans at multiple sites around town. Petro’s property is valued at 80,000 dollars more than the borough’s. The deal will have the borough paying that difference to the company. Harbor master Glo Wollen also expects to spend another 40,000 dollars over the next five years to develop the rest of that Petro land for leasing or other use. Petersburg will also be losing the 28,500 dollar annual lease payment, along with a little more than four thousand dollars of property tax revenue going through with the trade.
Some on the assembly backed the recommendations from the planning commission, harbor board and harbor department staff to move forward with the deal. Kurt Wohlhueter thought the company wasn’t interested in continuing with that lease, regardless of the swap.
“If we don’t take this deal I’m afraid what’s going to happen is we’re going to lose that 26,000 dollars anyway,” he said. “Because they’re going to go back to their original building and then we’re going to be stuck with this building.”
Wohlhueter also suggested some of seven lots that Petersburg would be getting could be leased out to someone else, to recoup that lost revenue. The assembly was in agreement that harbor staff needed a better place for maintenance work, but disagreed on the best option. Mayor Mark Jensen has opposed the trade. He thought other property belonging to the public works department or electric utility would make a better site for a new building at a cheaper cost.
“I’m not in any way saying we don’t need a maintenance shop for the harbor,” Jensen said. “I agree we do but if there’s a cheaper way, to do it I think we should go the cheaper route. Visiting with Senator Stedman this weekend, in a conversation he told the manager, he said hold onto your checkbook, the budget is not done.”
The outstanding question on the state budget is whether raw fish tax payments will continue to municipalities. Some of that money is used for projects like this in the harbor department. Without it, borough staff expect harbor rates may have to increase again to pay for new buildings, dredging or replacement and repairs to docks and floats.
The vote was to authorize the borough manager to take four steps to complete the swap. Those are an environmental assessment of the former warehouse and fuel storage site, a title search, making a formal offer to the company and completing the legal paperwork for the purchase and cancelation of the lease. The vote was 4-3 with Bob Lynn and Brandi Marohl joining the mayor in voting no.