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Boro approves cable easement: Hears updates on ferry system and Clam Cove zoning issues

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday approved easements that will provide a land access site near Mountain Point for Ketchikan Public Utilities’ planned sub-sea fiber optic cable between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

The Assembly also heard from Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables regarding the Alaska Marine Highway System, and a general update about the Clam Cove neighborhood plan and zoning issues from borough Planning Director Richard Harney.

The Assembly unanimously approved Resolution 2820, which provides for access, utility, and construction easements for Ketchikan Public Utilities.

KPU is planning toward installing a 90-mile fiber optic cable between the First City and Prince Rupert to enhance internet capacity on the island.

According to the agenda statement,  KPU’s customer internet demand is growing, and its “capacity within GCI’s existing fiber optic cable is full.

“KPU is having to supplement its capacity the short-term rental of additional bandwidth from GCI,” according to the agenda material.

GCI also offers consumer internet in the Ketchikan area.

KPU informed the borough that one of the few locations where a fiber optic cable could be brought to a landing site was at a lot at Mountain Point for which the borough had received title from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority in April.

KPU has requested use of a 30-foot-wide easement for the site, where the undersea cable would transition to land.

"The landing site will contain a concrete vault which will house the transition from subsea cable to the terrestrial infrastructure cable," according to the agenda statement.

At Monday’s meeting, KPU Telecommunications Division Manager Ed Cushing said the vault would measure about four feet by eight feet.

During the Assembly’s discussion of the proposed Resolution 2820 that would grant the easements. Assembly Member Judith McQuerry asked whether people would still be able to access the area.

Cushing described how the cable would be situated on the property, and said the concrete vault would be above ground. There would be “no fences, nothing that would prevent movement on the property,” he said.

Assembly Member AJ Pierce, who was participating in the meeting telephonically, asked whether the project would result in a large amount of tree removal.

Cushing replied that he was not aware of any tree removal that the project would require.

Before the vote on the resolution, which also requires KPU to pay for a record of survey for the property, Assembly Member Rodney Dial said he thinks that most people in the community realize the need for the new cable.

“They experience the slow down in internet and telecommunications services on cruise ship days, that's noticeable in the downtown area,” he said.

Assembly Member Sven Westergard added that it’s s good to have a redundancy on the island.

During the citizens’ comment portion of the meeting, Southeast Conference’s Venables, who said he was in Ketchikan while on his way to Prince of Wales Island for some work, addressed the Assembly.

Venables, who also is a member of the Alaska Marine Transportation Advisory Board, said the state budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year is still in progress, but the total amount of funding available for AMHS isn’t likely to be more than the $46.6 million agreed to by the Alaska House and Senate conference committee in May.

While that would avert a shutdown of the ferry system in October, it’s still about half of what the AMHS’ operating budget has been depending upon during the past couple of years.

“It’s not a good forecast for service to our communities across the region,” he said.

Rather than a cohesive regionwide system from Bellingham, Washington to Dutch Harbor, Venables said it looks like AMHS might be “balkanizing”  into separate entities and levels of service for westward Alaska, Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.

“I think one of the biggest issues right now is how will those fewer dollars be spent,” said Venables, who urged communities and stakeholders to stand up for a public process that is as inclusive as possible so “we can get the best service across the region as we can for the fewer dollars.”

He said Southeast Conference and the Marine Transportation Advisory Board would be at the forefront of that effort.

Venables later noted that in marine highway system’s “big picture, Prince Rupert seems to be having an increasingly diminished role in the future and that concerns us, not just for the ferry system, but for other trade and commerce opportunities.”

He said he’d reached out to Borough Mayor David Landis and City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen to elevate those discussions, and has been in contact with Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain.

“And we're going to take a look at how we can continue to strengthen those ties and make sure that ... what that important trade route and transportation route continues the best way possible,” Venables said. “...The bottom line is there has to be economic basis and a reason for what we do and make sure that every dollar is well spent. We can't just base it on emotion or because things used to be such in such a way. And so we want to make sure we build that platform for commerce and opportunity.”

Responding to a question from Landis, Venables addressed the state administration’s contract with Northern Economics for a report on what to do with AMHS, which is due at the beginning of October.

Venables said he’d met with Northern Economics this past week.

“I offered the resources and services that (Southeast Conference) could provide and told them that our hope is to help them build the best buffet of possible choices that the governor would pick from.”

Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, Assembly Member Sue Pickrell asked the current status of the Clam Cove neighborhood planning process.

The process was prompted by the purchase of an approximately 5-acre parcel of beachfront property on southeast Gravina Island near Clam Cove by the owners of a local tour company.

The property is zoned rural residential/cottage industry, and the owners have requested a rezone to general commercial to accommodate their tour company business.

After the Borough Planning Commission recommended against the rezone, the Assembly postponed making a final decision so that a Clam Cove neighborhood plan could be developed first.

At Monday’s meeting, Planning Director Harney said three neighborhood meetings had been held, one of which was available as a teleconference .

“Generally speaking, it seems, though, that all the property owners have stated their opinions one way or the other,” Harney said. “We'll be bringing the planned unit development rezone to the Planning Commission on June 11.”

Harney said the neighborhood master plan probably won’t be “completely fleshed out” for the June 11 Planning Commission meeting, “but it's coming along pretty quick, so we're pretty confident that we'll have it for the July meeting.”

He said he believed that the planned unit development rezone will address most of the concerns of the residents and property owners, as well as those of the tour company owners.

The elements of that rezone were not discussed Monday evening.

Pickrell asked whether the June 11 meeting was the one that members of the public or Clam Cove property owners who wanted to comment should attend.

“Yes,” Harney replied. “And we've been in communication with most of them. They've had the opportunity to be emailing us. We field calls and emails from them pretty regularly. And we've been looking for input as we move along, but yes, June 11 is the next public forum.”

Monday’s agenda included a joint proclamation by the borough and City of Ketchikan mayors, expressing "sincere appreciation as we honor and recognize the countless individuals and agencies who responded" to the May 13 incident involving two floatplanes.

The proclamation was read by Landis, who said the incident was a “real blow” to the community.

“But it certainly also showed ways that we have been unified and will continue to be unified, and continue (to be) a strong community,” Landis said.

The proclamation cites the large number of individuals and entities that contributed to the response in the aftermath of the mid-air collision that claimed the lives of six of the 16 people aboard the two aircraft.

Landis presented a copy of the proclamation to South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve Rydeen.  

Rydeen said the incident was a “very difficult time for the community, for all the first responders that responded.”

“The true hero is Chuck Hanas, who saved 10 lives that day,” Rydeen continued, citing the efforts of the Ketchikan man who was on his boat with his wife in George Inlet when they saw one of the planes hit the water.

Hanas immediately rushed to aid the people in the water.

“Without (Hanas’) assistance in and just ... get-in-the-boat-and go, we would have lost a lot more,” Rydeen said. “So without Chuck doing what he did, we had survivors in this wreck.”

He added that all of the first responding agencies worked well together.

“It was like we train for; it's like the training that we put in for every year  in our budgets” Rydeen said. “This came to fruition and we made it work.”

In other business Monday, the Assembly,

• Rescheduled the Assembly’s second regular meeting of July from July 15 to July 22. According to the agenda materials, the borough mayor and at least three Assembly members will not be able to attend a meeting on July 15.

• Approved an amendment to R&M Engineering-Ketchikan’s existing contract for engineering and project management services for the South Tongass Sewer — Oyster Avenue to Forest Park Project. The amendment raises the original contract amount of $25,200 by $17,090 to $42,340.

“The primary driver for the increase in cost for inspection services was the extent of rock present throughout the work area, and the hardness of the encountered material,” according to the agenda material. “Nearly every work area, including Oyster Avenue, throughout South Tongass, and the adjacent Forest Park WWTP (wastewater treatment plant), required rock extraction to some extent. The lengthened construction time — particularly on the highway — required additional inspections.”