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By KATHY ‘KATY’ HUNNICUTT
A busy community news cycle this week. Towed out of retirement were Gov. Frank Murkowski and Ketchikan Shipyard director Doug Ward; both well qualified to spearhead discussion at the Rotary luncheon: Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry challenges and need to get the stakeholders involved with a focus group.
Mayor Bob Sivertsen responded on May 8 with a follow-up to my POV public-private partnership for port improvements. Sivertsen agrees with City Manager Karl Amylon that Ketchikan needs to better accommodate the larger vessels by reconfiguring the port; and upland improvements to better disperse and service visitors pouring off the Neo-Panamax vessels visiting Ketchikan.
Due diligence over the past 10 years, the taxpayers have invested in city salaries, travel expense to trade shows and flown in industry consultants to review options for port configurations, equipment required, and how best to partner in management. Yes, waiting for Amylon's decision matrix report outlining benefits, liabilities, risks and opportunities for the community to consider would be a return on our investment.
However, here is where I disagree with Mayor Sivertsen as he writes: “there are many unanswered questions and decisions the City Council will need to make, as they navigate the various issues,’ etc. We-the-people elected the council members and until we have read the decision matrix report and hold public vetting meetings to review best options, do these elected officials have our best interest as a resident's legacy left to future generations. There is enough mistrust in the city's mishandling of tourism as a viable industry that 'rubber-stamping' a partnership with any cruise line corporations is not done during the Persons-to-be-Heard segment before the council cast their final votes.
As for Mayor Sivertsen’s comment about uplands improvements, I am assuming it includes wayfinding signage, restrooms, park benches, landscaping, waterfront boardwalk to traverse back to the docks; and walking tour map that connects visitors with neighborhoods, merchants and Ketchikan's heritage tourism. It also includes the preservation of our heritage as it is not only our past; it is our future which defines Ketchikan over any other Southeast port.
With all due respect, these topics have been before City Council and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly for years, most recently signage two weeks ago. Begrudgingly, the council postponed signage again. Why? If we do not take the initiative and invest in ourselves, how does the mayor's office handle corporate partnership memos instructing us where best to put signage, benches and restrooms? We should not be considered the yes-man in any partnership nor take orders from the corporate liaison with cruise headquarters in Miami.
If tourism is generating millions into the general budget, there should be a percentage set aside for upland improvements, and I'm not talking CPV funds. Business 101: owner should invest in company before paying the bills; as result a return investment: accolades from the 1.3 million visitors 'how user-friendly Ketchikan made their experience.” Every day Ketchikan is having an open house, and we should be attempting to garner their loyalty to return for three to six days vacation in the remaining three seasons.
Lastly in the news, the City Council filled the vacancy on the council with former mayor Lew Williams III. Like my opening story of bringing experience out of retirement (Murkowski and Ward), I highly recommend Lew Williams' leadership skills and desire to provide input on dock expansion and reconfiguration.
Williams would make an ideal candidate to chair the nonpartisan volunteer task force. While stakeholders in town for the next five months, city manager's staff works with the community task force to assess data thus far; options; cost, etc. Also answer the questions: if paying for port expenditures, should they pay CPV tax as well; financial assets and liabilities of independence verses partnership i.e. inclusive rights into perpetuity which will alienate our relationships with other cruise lines. No contracts should be signed that either constrict entrepreneurial growth of make us a company town, in my opinion.
If the cruise line companies are pressuring Ketchikan with a deadline, let's make this a team effort and give City Council a proposal we can all agree on by September.
Kathy 'Katy' Hunnicutt of Ketchikan is an educator and advocate.