Ketchikan City Council members, in a regular meeting Thursday evening, urged the Ketchikan Police Department to continue the tradition of blocking vehicle traffic on Jackson Street for safe trick-or-treating on Halloween night.
In a letter attached to the meeting's agenda, the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center had recommended to cancel the police department's involvement in the Halloween event due to not wanting to encourage the risk of Halloween trick-or-treaters spreading the COVID-19 virus with door-to-door visits at Jackson Street homes.
The letter, authored jointly by Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander Abner Hoage and Ketchikan Police Chief Joseph White, stated that, "Our recommendation is to not block off Jackson Street, as it would enable participation in a higher risk activity and unless directed otherwise, this is how we intend to proceed," the letter states.
Hoage and White wrote that they had consulted with Alaska Public Health and reviewed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations in the process of coming to the decision to cancel, "in order to ensure we continue to remain at Level 1 — Low Risk."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, community member Bill Meck explained why he thought the recommendation to cancel police department intervention this Halloween was misguided.
"For the kids, it's quite a public safety issue," he said.
He added that he has lived in that neighborhood for years, and residents have been decorating and preparing for Halloween night as usual.
"The kids are going to come out one way or another for Halloween this year," he said.
Meck said that the trick-or-treaters will be wearing masks and the event will be outdoors, which are two virus prevention recommendations urged by the EOC.
He also described his own family's adaptations to safely distributing candy during the COVID-19 pandemic, planning to have an outdoor table at which they will distribute treats to visiting children while wearing gloves.
The police presence would be "more of a public safety matter," he said, not a promotion of the event by local law enforcement.
Council Member Riley Gass, who said he lives on a nearby street, said he agreed with Meck, "in the interest of community safety."
Council members Judy Zenge, Dave Kiffer, Janalee Gage and Mark Flora agreed. Flora added that if there was a consensus that the police involvement should be canceled, that the public should have had a much longer notice.
During the council member comments segment later in the meeting, Council Member Sam Bergeron said that he wanted to be on record as opposing the idea of any trick-or-treating happening during the pandemic.
Council members did not give a formal direction on the decision during the meeting.
Hoage said, after hearing council member comments, that although the EOC wouldn't want to endorse trick-or-treating activities on Halloween, that as a public safety representative he also would advocate for the safest approach to the holiday as possible. He concluded that the EOC would continue to focus on sending out an educational message to the community as decisions were made about the Halloween traditions.
Under the agenda item addressing "cruise-related issues," council members discussed how to address the many challenges the community is facing with the cruise ship-dependent economy going into 2021.
One issue that city leaders are addressing are circumstances that City of Ketchikan Manager Karl Amylon described in a Wednesday special City Council meeting.
Cruise companies are considering operating in 2021 with their passengers only allowed to visit communities utilizing a safe "bubble" approach. In that scenario, passengers could only sign up for excursions approved by the cruise line and would be transferred directly from the ship to the excursion destination then straight back to the ship.
Shopping, dining and exploring the city would be completely cut out in that approach to cruising, further devastating the economy in cruise destination cities, said Amylon. Ships that are filled at only partial capacity also would slash opportunities for local business opportunity.
"This is how cruise is going to operate in 2021," Amylon said. "We're going to again see a very significant financial impact to the local economy."
Flora said in Thursday's meeting that if a "bubble" approach was going to be utilized, it would have to be as big as possible.
Council members Bergeron, Flora, Abby Bradberry and Gass agreed that a committee needed to be created to address the "bubble" problem. That committee would need to include people from all sectors of the Ketchikan community, they emphasized, including representatives not economically tied to the cruise industry.
Kiffer brought up the thorny potential that large cruise ships likely wouldn't be able to sail from the Lower 48 to Alaska at all in 2021, as the Canadian ports might continue to be closed.
"But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try," Flora added.
Flora, who has a seat on the Port & Harbors Advisory board, said that members of that board already have been discussing solutions.
In other business Thursday, City Council members unanimously passed an extension of the city's disaster emergency order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that was declared in March. The order was set to expire on Nov. 1, and if approved, the extension would push the emergency order to March 1, 2021.
Approving the emergency order allows certain provisions to be retained to improve public safety during the duration of the order, including the suspension of a requirement that council members be physically present at meetings for a quorum and the expansion of the city manager's authority in actions that would mitigate public safety.
Council members also unanimously approved a motion to authorize city staff to enter into a settlement agreement with KYI and the nonprofit Residential Youth Care.
The city was authorized in September to repossess the building previously occupied by Ketchikan Youth Initiatives. The building, at 632 Park Avenue, had been deeded to the nonprofit organization in 2009. Because KYI had not met contractual obligations, in addition to First City Homeless Services' urgent need for a building in which to operate an overnight warming shelter before winter, the city and KYI, in partnership with RYC, worked out an agreement to transfer the building back into the city's possession.
That agreement would provide $119,354 for the renovation of the Park Avenue building to serve as an overnight warming center; $76,646 for payment of outstanding KYI contractor debt; $75,000 to RYC for local youth programming activities; and transfer of the building back to the city.
Toward the end of the meeting, Amylon shared the positive news that the city's water filtration issue has been eased.
According to Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Division information, in late 2019 the city slightly exceeded its "allowable concentrations" of the six-month fecal coliform measurement results in the city's raw water source. Because of that, city staff has been in talks with federal and state regulators, both to correct the problem and also to avoid being compelled to install an extremely expensive new filtration system.
Amylon shared that due to meetings he'd attended with officials in Anchorage, a notice has been received from the Alaska State Department of Environmental Conservation that the department was "suspending the deadline for the requirement to install filtration," allowing the city to manage its raw water supply as it has historically. That will potentially save the city from a huge expense.
Other items addressed at Thursday's meeting included:
• Mayoral proclamations supporting law enforcement, Red Ribbon Week and the Americans with Disabilities Act 30th anniversary.
• A presentation by Women In Safe Homes representative JD Martin of the recent projects, grant acquisitions and accomplishments of the WISH nonprofit organization.
• A presentation by Hoage about the COVID-19 risk level in the community and the updated state Mandate 10, which loosened rules concerning quarantine for travelers and altered time periods for testing.