At lower tides, steep walkways make access to Petersburg’s South Harbor difficult. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday night approved a shorter list of top priorities for possible federal funding. The community’s lobbyist suggested that move with the potential for a national infrastructure funding bill.

Assembly members aren’t holding their breath for the next big project earmark to come from the nation’s capital but they are getting their request in just in case. That’s following their approval last month of a list of lobbying priorities. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht explained what the lobbyist was looking for.

“I got a call from our federal lobbyist that said hey guess what, they’re reinstating earmarks in the House,” Giesbrecht said. “Each House member can submit 10, so in our case Representative Young can submit 10 for the whole state of Alaska and give me two or three projects with at least one being transportation related and we’ll submit these to Congressman Young.”

Congressional earmarks, remember them? They’re federal spending for specific projects in a Congressional district, sometimes used to broker a deal in a divided Capital. Before they were banned in Congress they were also often pointed out as examples of wasteful spending. But they’re back on the table as lawmakers begin consideration of some additional giant spending bills.

Petersburg’s assembly was able to take its list of priorities from last month and submit a shorter one.

The first item that everyone agreed on is a handicapped-accessible ramp for the float system in South Harbor. That would allow better access for harbor users and passengers on small cruise ship that dock there, offering a way around the steep walkways at low tide. Assembly member Bob Lynn thought that one made sense.

“That also kind of indirectly works as also a transportation project because it does move people in and out of town,” Lynn said. “And from a standpoint of I think safety, I think it’s a pretty good project to put on our list since it is so well through the design phase and cost estimate.”

The lobbyist had asked for construction work that was close to shovel ready, with solid cost estimates and at least one transportation project.

The borough has conceptual drawings for new ramps on both ends of the South Harbor and has sought the estimated 2.2 million dollars for that work in the past.  That one made the shortlist unanimously.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci nominated the upgrade of the bypass road, or waterline road that goes behind the airport. That’s expected to cost around 2.5 million dollars. But no one else was interested in shortlisting that one; it did not get a vote for a lack of a second.

Instead the assembly then voted to combine four other priorities into one. Those are expansion and improvement of boat ramps at Banana and Blaquiere Point on southern Mitkof Island for 3.2 million dollars, 1.7 million dollars for a new dock and ramp at Papkes Landing, $1.5 million for a new dock and float on Kupreanof and a dock on the mainland at Point Agassiz.

Assembly member Dave Kensinger said the marine infrastructure is important to transportation in the area.

“Everyone of these docks and facilities needs repair or replacement and by lumping them all together, we might not necessarily get enough money to do all four of the projects but my hope would be we’d get enough money to get maybe three of them,” Kensinger said. “I figure if we have to prioritize, let’s just call it, I believe member Lynn had a good term, remote access facilities.”

That vote was also unanimous. But the third project to make the shortlist was not. It’s 16.2 million dollars for final planning and project design for a new hospital building.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci was not ready to commit to pursuit of a new medical center.

“If this is just to go with a new facility, purchase property up by the airport or the fire hall wherever, build new facility, I’m not there yet,” Meucci said. “And I think the community has a lot of concerns and I’m hearing about it and I’m sure everybody else is hearing about them and I can’t support this at this time.”

Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter said this funding would build off of master planning that was completed just before the pandemic.

“The intent of this request is to move that project along,” Hofstetter said. “It does not lock us into a final design. The project request is to actually do the planning phase for finalized services, space requirements, staffing, research options for new hospital design including a two-story structure or other, collect preliminary geotechnical information necessary for final site selection.”

This work would get a new hospital to the construction phase. Some of the options looked at for total cost of that project were estimated last year to cost 92 to 110 million dollars. Meucci and mayor Mark Jensen voted against the hospital planning money to make the shortlist but it passed on a 5-2 vote

The assembly plans a work session with the hospital board sometime in late April to further that discussion.