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11/22/2013
City to negotiate Whitman hydro sale

By ANDREW SHEELER

Daily News Staff Writer

In a brisk meeting that lasted less than an hour, the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday authorized City Manager Karl Amylon to negotiate the sale of the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project, accepted Council Member Sam Bergeron’s resignation and rejected a Seattle business man’s request to build a new Creek Street business until he tears down the derelict Dock Street building he owns.

Council Member K.J. Harris made the motion to authorize Amylon to negotiate the possible sale of Whitman Lake to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

"It’s well worth checking into," he said.

The motion, which unanimously passed, will allow Amylon to submit the hydroelectric project for sale to SEAPA under option No. 4 of the request for offers it issued last spring. That option, which had a Nov. 29 deadline for submission, covers the possible sale of energy projects to SEAPA by interested parties and can include new hydroelectric projects, diesel generators, wind energy or other options.

Whitman Lake would compete with other projects under bid. The SEAPA board will determine which project or projects to select. SEAPA is a regional nonprofit energy provider made up of the member utilities from Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

According to a memo from Amylon, the purpose of considering the sale is to avoid costly "true-up" charges the city could incur when Whitman Lake displaces energy from the SEAPA grid. Under the power sales agreement that the City of Ketchikan signed, SEAPA power must be taken before any outside source. In an especially rainy year, Amylon said that the city could be on the hook to SEAPA for up to $544,000.

Council Member Matt Olsen spoke favorably toward the idea of a sale.

"I wish we could have done this back when we first started up," he said.

Council Member Bob Sivertsen, who also sits on the SEAPA board, said that the motion presented just allowed the possibility of a sale to be "on the table."

Both the City Council and the SEAPA board would have to approve the sale.

Also Thursday, the Council unanimously accepted outgoing member Bergeron’s Nov. 8 resignation, with various members of the Council thanking him for his service. The city will begin advertising the City Council vacancy through Dec. 2, after which the Council will select a replacement from a pool of candidates. Both the candidate interviews and the selection likely will be on the agenda for the Dec. 5 City Council meeting.

Harris encouraged members of the public to apply for the position.

"We need some new blood over here," he said.

Finally, the Council unanimously denied Seattle businessman Marvin Oliver’s request for permitting to build a new business on Creek Street that would include a retail store and an aquarium. Oliver also owns the building at 419 Dock St., once a hotel frequented by chronic inebriates called The Knickerbocker. The city has condemned and boarded up the building and has asked Oliver to tear it down. To date, Oliver had not responded to that request.

Oliver’s new request drew criticism from Council members.

"It floors me that he would even ask," Council Member Marty West said.

"Take care of your business first," Harris added.

Oliver was not present at the meeting.

Before adjourning for the evening, several Council members and city staff made statements.

City Clerk Katy Suiter announced that the ALaska Association of Municipal Clerks had voted her "Clerk of the Year." The announcement brought applause from Council members and members of the audience.

Amylon informed the Council that the city still had not filled the vacant children’s librarian position at Ketchikan Public Library, a fact that he said put some strain on other library staff. City staff from other departments, including the Ted Ferry Civic Center and the Ketchikan Volunteer Fire Department, had stepped in to help out with story time and other children’s events, Amylon said.

Harris, who was absent from the meeting where the Council voted to approve the selection of a $95,000 rain gauge, said he was now speaking to various parties about "how this whole rain gauge thing came about." He said his next conversation would be with Kathleen Light, executive director of the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council, the group which was contracted to find an artist.

The rain gauge drew considerable response both in favor and opposition from Council members and members of the public.

"I’ve gotten all kinds of input on the rain gauge," City Mayor Lew Williams III said, adding that the community’s interest whether in favor or not was a good thing.

The Council still must vote to award the contract to the two Dutch artists responsible for the rain gauge, and will do so at a future meeting in either December or January.

The Council is scheduled to meet again on Monday to begin discussion of the 2014 city and Ketchikan Public Utilities budgets. The Monday meeting is the first of several planned. All meetings will take place at 7 p.m. in Council chambers. There will be time for public comment at the start of the meeting.