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By NICK BOWMAN
Daily News Staff Writer
A $2.5 million grant for the City of Ketchikan’s Whitman Lake hydroelectric project is one step closer to a final vote after the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to introduce the ordinance at its meeting on Monday.
The grant would come from the borough’s $8.7 million economic development fund. It would be used to cover a $2.5 million funding shortfall for the project.
"There are some things that are good for economic development, and that is infrastructure," said Assembly Member Bill Rotecki. "Having sufficient power is probably one of our best investments in that realm, and not to mention it’s good for all the local residents as well as economic development."
In late October, City Manager Karl Amylon recommended the city scrap the project after bids came in far higher than estimated and efforts to significantly cut construction costs failed. The Ketchikan City Council voted in November to continue with the project.
A public hearing on the borough grant is set for Dec. 17.
Also on Monday, the Assembly amended an ordinance that would make aircraft maintenance and repair a permitted use in Heavy Industrial zones.
Changes to borough code that made floatplane facilties a conditional use in General Commercial, Light Industrial and Public Lands and Institutions zones and a principal use in the Heavy Industrial zone were introduced at the meeting.
The changes also restrict floatplane repair and maintenance to Heavy Industrial and Airport Development zones.
Conditional use permits would be issued by the Planning Commission through a public process that would allow nearby residents to voice concerns about potential noise issues.
Hours of operation or other requirements to control noise from floatplane facilities and repair shops would be set if they were deemed necessary by the Planning Commission
Borough Planning Director Tom Williams said Monday that the proposed changes take into account remote lodges and cabins that aren’t in heavy industrial zones.
"We try to operate on a complaint basis," Williams said. "If you’re remote, you’re likely not to get complaints on that lodge."
Assembly Member Glen Thompson took issue with the changes because they would allow the commission to refuse to issue a permit, which would prohibit owners from certain uses of their property.
"If there is a noise problem, perhaps we need to adopt a noise ordinance for areas where noise is a problem — for instance, in the downtown area," Thompson said. "We could have that conversation."
He added, "To simply address every single industrial heavy property saying, ‘If you want this type of a use, you’re going to have to apply for a conditional use permit, which could be denied,’ is overstepping."
Williams said that limiting a facility to be unusable isn’t the "philosophy or the character" of the planning commission.
"We’ve demonstrated that we want to make the efforts to try to make a business work," he said.
Rotecki said he didn’t see the proposed changes as "onerous" because the Assembly has the power to reverse the commission’s decision.
"If there is a high value for this maintenence facility, the Assembly will reverse the decision, which I don’t think the commission would make, anyway," Rotecki said.
Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer said Thompson’s idea of noise ordinances was a red herring because the Assembly "always votes them down."
Anthony Criscola, owner of South East Air and Sea, LLC, said he didn’t support the changes because they would make it difficult for him to own his own floatplane facility. He currently rents the space for his business.
"We hope to have our own property and this could make it very difficult," he said. "SEAS currently performs maintenance on six air taxi companies. We’ve operated for close to three years now, eight months of those we operated downtown ... We’ve yet to have a complaint."
Assembly Member Mike Painter and Thompson introduced amendments that classified floatplane maintenance and repair in the Heavy Industrial zone as a permitted use, which passed with a 5-1 vote. Rotecki voted no.
The amendment frees aircraft maintenance in Heavy Industrial zones from applying for conditional use permits.
The Assembly’s next meeting is Dec. 17.