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Council defers noise variance

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday again deferred action on a late-night noise variance requested by the Alaska Department of Transportation for a downtown road project, looking to meet  with DOT to find construction options with fewer business-damaging disruptions to downtown hotels.

Council members and representatives of the Gilmore Hotel and Cape Fox Lodge agreed there are no perfect solutions to fully mitigate negative impacts during construction of the approximately $10 million street and sidewalk renovation project along the Front, Mill and Stedman street corridor. However, the hotel representatives said some aspects of DOT’s construction plan — especially DOT’s requested noise variance to allow construction to occur between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m during the 2018 cruise ship season — would have devastating impacts on their businesses.

The hotels would be obligated to tell potential guests that construction would be going on throughout the night, resulting in a predictable loss of bookings, according to Tim Lewis of Cape Fox Lodge.

Between Cape Fox Lodge, Gilmore Hotel and New York Hotel, “you’re taking 30 to 40 percent of the rooms off the market,” Lewis said.

Kay Andrew of the Gilmore Hotel said that doing the construction work at night “is not an option for our business.

“Our view rooms are on the street and we would have people canceling and leaving the hotel with the noise,” she said, adding they would prefer that a noise variance be issued for areas where it wouldn’t interfere with hotels or apartments.’

In late May and early June DOT officials visiting Ketchikan described the multi-phase plan for the project that they would like to start on Oct. 1 and complete within one year as designed to minimize impacts to area businesses and traffic throughout the project period. They said the late-night work during the cruise ship season would be intended to reduce traffic and pedestrian issues.

The DOT official gave a presentation at the council meeting of June 1, during which the council voted 4-3 to defer DOT’s request for the noise variance, citing a business’s request to address the council on the issue.

In addition to the detrimental effect of overnight noise on the hotel business, Andrew highlighted potential access problems with the project, as well. The downtown road projects this past winter resulted in the worst two months out of the current ownership’s 16 years in business there.

“We lost 30 percent of our business in those two months, and our customers told us they didn’t come because of access to our business — all the parking was taken out, including our loading area and handicap parking,” she said. “The customers were expected to fight their way through the construction zone to get across the street.”

  Andrew asked the council members what they were demanding from DOT as far as access to businessnes.

Later, during the council’s discussion of the deferred motion to grant the noise variance, Council Member Julie Isom proposed — and eventually withdrew — an amendment to allow construction to occur until 11 p.m. instead of stopping by the current 10 p.m. start of the overnight noise restriction time period.

If the only issue is noise, why couldn’t the construction work occur within the existing allowable time frames, Isom asked.

Council Member Judy Zenge noted that Lewis and Andrew had made suggestions for changes in the construction phasing that would have less impact on their businesses.

“We need to decide: Do we want this project to go forward and are there ways that some changes could be made that could mitigate some of these problems,” Zenge said. “...  Maybe now we need to prepare a list and give it to state and say we want to look at this. What can we do to mitigate some of this stuff.”

Council Member Dick Coose agreed, saying he thinks that there are options, and by sitting down with the state and the contractor, they can develop those options. There still would be some need for night work, however.

“What I would like to see us do is to write down a list of things we want the contractor and the state to consider, and to bring us back the plan so that we know that you’re minimizing that impact.”

Concerns were voiced about the potential that another deferment and development of mitigation measures could result in a lengthening of the project into two years at potentially greater cost. The council voted 6-0 to defer and request a special meeting with the state within the next couple of weeks on the issue.

Council Member Mark Flora and City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III were absent Thursday.

Also Thursday, the council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance to set new service levels and rates for internet plans offered by Ketchikan. The proposed ordinance, which also would update sections of the Ketchikan Municipal Code to represent current internet service technology and practices, will be considered in second reading by the council during the regular meeting of July 6.