By Heidi Zemach for SCN
At Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, October 8, the council unanimously approved a $161 thousand change order to the city’s three-year old agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers for dredging at the Small Boat Harbor. It brings the estimated total The amount of dredge material that the corps said the city needs to remove now has increased over those years by an additional 896 cubic yards, so the cost is higher than was originally estimated, explained City Finance Director Kris Erchinger. She is Acting City Manager in the absence of the city manager and assistant city manager, who are out of town on city business. The dredging project includes a contingency for unforeseen costs, Erchinger said, but later said it might actually come in at a lower price. The resolution was approved after some discussion. Bob Valdatta pointed out that dredging had taken place in the same area a few years ago. He had some harsh words about the Army Corps’ past record—the unfortunate breakwater construction in the harbor that came in too short, and had to be lengthened. We’re very fortunate that we don’t have to dredge the harbor every year like the Port of Homer and the Port of Anchorage do, said Harbormaster Mack Funk. “Is it common that projects with the Corps end up costing more?” asked Councilmember Ristine Casagranda. The original document was only an estimate, said Erchinger. We’re getting a great deal by partnering with the Corps of Engineers, which is doing their own dredging.
Prior to its passage, Councilwoman Christy Terry proposed an amendment to make clear to all reading it that the city’s total part of the funding for the dredge work, $604,000, came from the cruise ship head tax program, in compliance with the state code’s stated restrictions for its use. The reason given is that the dredging is near the Z-float, which is home to the Coast Guard Cutter Mustang, and the Harbor Fire Boat, both of which would respond were there to be a cruise ship emergency. Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson said she’s glad they’re dredging the harbor as some boat operators have told her they’re scraping their keel. She agreed with the amendment, but said Seward has been held up in the state capitol as an example of a community that complies, meaning that it spends its cruise ship head taxes for the benefit of the tourists.
Another resolution that was approved unanimously on the consent calendar, and therefore without any discussion, was to restore the budgeted line-items to account for the cost of credit card fees charged to the city when customers pay their bills. The city had been charging its own customers extra for paying utility bills with credit cards. But after learning of the practice, and researching how much that amount had been, the council felt that it was not in the city’s best interests to make customers pay the additional fee as it would discourage efficiency, eliminate the common business practice of accepting credit cards which customers have come to expect, and would generate customer dissatisfaction, according to the resolution’s explanation. Residents still will be prohibited from paying their taxes, leases and assessments by credit card.
Another piece of good news for residents—particularly for book readers, is a resolution accepting and appropriating a $6,750 grant from Rasmuson Foundation to update and replace some 450 titles in the library’s non-fiction collection. It will be a boon to the new library, whose construction has been proceeding apace. Many have complimented the outer tiles that change color with the light, and as you pass. Most people say they love them, and have compared them to the Aurora Borealis, to fish scales, and to a chameleon, said Patty Linville, the head librarian.
Council members also certified the October 2 municipal election in which the three incumbents Jean Bardarson, Marianna Keil and Ristine Casagranda were returned to office. They thanked the voters, expressed pleasure at the election’s outcome, and said they looked forward to working with one another for another two years. They thanked challengers Kenneth Blatchford and Tim McDonald for running.
They also scheduled some important work sessions. There will be three budget work sessions, Nov 5, 6, and 7th at 6:00 p.m. They are all open to the public.
There’s a work session on December 10, to review Seward Providence Medical Center’s contract, which is up for renewal by the city.
They also scheduled a work session Oct 24 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. to discuss amendments to the city’s code to provide for the interconnection of small renewable energy sources to the city’s electrical distribution system.
Another work session proposed by Casagranda to discuss the proposed council compromise on water fluoridation died for lack of agreement that it should be held at this time. Casagranda wanted reassurance by the council, in writing, that neither they, nor the city administration would go forward with steps to fluoridate, and for instance would not accept any grants for new water tank projects that might require fluoridation. But Keil felt it was premature to discuss the details of how a compromise might work to assure that some people could receive fluoride in some form while others would not have to. The water tank has not been designed yet, and even then, fluoridation may turn out to be too expensive, she reasoned. She said there would be a number of compromise options for the council to consider eventually, including the possibility of purchasing water filters for people who don’t want fluoridated water. Councilwoman Christy Terry asked Erchinger to let City manager know about the conversation that had occurred, including the Casagranda’s concerns.
Mayor David Seaward issued a proclamation honoring those from State Trooper and Fire Department, and Search and Rescue groups and individuals, thanking them for their tireless efforts to find Michael LeMaitre, the runner who went missing from Mount Marathon July 4, 2012. He also proclaimed Fire Prevention Week, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Archives Month.
The cost to the city of sending four people to represent Seward in Obihiro Japan will be $12,000. The cost to send Vanta Shafer and Bardarson to the launch of the Research Vessel Sikuliak in Michigan next week will be $3,000. They will be joined by Jim Hunt and Ron Long, who are already in the Lower 48, and by Harbormaster Mack Funk. Hunt, Long, Bardarson and lobbyist Kent Dawson met last Friday with representatives of AIEDA, the Alaska Industrial Economic Development Authority, to create a Memorandum of Understanding for how the $10 million GO bond for SMIC basin developmentshould be spent should voters approve the statewide bond bills at the November 6 election.
Shafer asked the city clerk to sign up Mayor Seaward for the newly-elected officials training at the upcoming Alaska Municipal League gathering in Anchorage. Keil added he still needs to learn about the Open Meetings Act, and about what public information is, and what it is not.
(Author’s note: They’re presumably referring to the mayor’s not having attended that particular workshop last year, and to the fact that he has since repeatedly questioned Shafer’s printing in her Seward Journal a commentary on the status of the RBCA lawsuit, which was authored by City Attorney Cheryl Brooking. Neither the Seward Phoenix Log, nor the Seward City News was made aware that Brooking had written such a commentary, nor that one existed prior to its publication in the Journal. Unlike Councilmember Shafer, who is also the Journal’s publisher, I was never privy to information about the ongoing lawsuit, which took place in executive sessions. However the council members have repeatedly insisted to Seaward during meetings that Brookings’ commentary was always part of the public record. They also had Brooking dedicate a lengthy legal report during a council meeting on the Alaska Open Meetings Act, and the possible consequences of violating it, after information was leaked anonymously to this reporter about the council agreeing to pay the remaining portion of the costs of the environmental groups’ lawsuit, after being ordered to do so by an appeals court judge, a matter that would soon become public record via the courts. )
By Heidi Zemach for SCN