By Heidi Zemach for SCN
Monday night’s Seward City Council meeting featured a brief presentation by Jim Kubitz, Real Estate Manager with the Alaska Railroad Corporation, of the railroad’s ambitious phased development plans for Seward. ARRC CEO Chris Aadnesen was in the audience, along with railroad dock manager Louis BenCardino.
The plan would be to greatly increase the size of the existing barge dock, create a second barge dock, and dredge the harbor areas around them to allow for large vessels. Plans also call for expanded, cleared areas of railroad land past Port Avenue to be used for hauling out barges and working on them, and for increased rails and rail-related traffic and facilities. They also call for a new security road to be created by joining Airport Drive with Port Avenue, which would allow industrial transportation into those areas, and enable trucks to avoid the busy part of Port Avenue and Seward Highway.
Kubitz called for the council’s strong support for the plan, and promised it would not interfere with the city’s plans to develop the Seward Municipal Industrial Center, or “SMIC”-basin area. Rather, the plans would complement one another, bringing Seward a reputation as the most desirable harbor in Alaska for ship and rail traffic, he said.
ARRC’s presentation was followed by one by commercial fisherman Tim McDonald, whose family cooperatively owns prime beachfront property along Nash Road where hundreds of people flock every summer to fish for salmon and a variety of other species along the beach. McDonald is proposing a “base-line” trail that would run 1.8 miles across the airport lands, to the beach and beyond. He’d like it to align with Airport Road, cross railroad property and other properties’ right-of-ways, and eventually join up with the Iditarod Historic Trail system. It would complete a loop of existing off-road trails, and would enable people to easily access the Iditarod trail, which now is cut off of from the road system by about two and a half miles.
McDonald dismissed the railroad’s appeal for a secure private road at the end of Port Avenue, accessible only to those involved in barge or railroad work in the area. Rather, he said his bicycle and hiking trail would be an additional attraction similar to the Bird Creek boardwalk, where people would come to recreate, and enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the area that includes moose, bears, and even occasional runs of herring and hooligan accompanied by flocks of geese and other birds. He suggested that this could be accomplished by means of a “Chunnel” running beneath the railroad land, or maybe a bridge above it. McDonald said he hopes to work with the railroad on the idea.
The trail proposal has the strong support of Historic Iditarod Trail Committee leader and senior dog musher Dan Seavey, who wants to see the Iditarod trail connected, and made more accessible to the public in that area before he dies.
In other business, the council passed a resolution for a contract hiring Harmon Construction, of Seward, the lowest of three bidders, to build a vessel wash-down pad at Seward Ships shipyard at SMIC for $549,700. It authorized another $107,000 in contingency fees and project management costs. The pad’s purpose is to catch paint hull-scrapings and invasive species, and help prevent them from entering the watershed. The price included wiring the pad for heat, but not a source to provide that heat so that it can melt the ice and snow in the winter months when the majority of shipyard work takes place. The wash-down pad is paid by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee funds.
The council also voted to authorize the city manager to enter into a contract with Orion Marine Contractors, In. for up to $215,500 for insured repairs to the synchrolift dock. It was recently discovered that the dock’s aging wooden pilings had sustained serious damage, and an investigation suggested that the damage was incurred by the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Tustumena being tied to the dock, and slamming repeatedly into the pilings during the extreme wind and wave action that occurred there during that period of time. Seward Ships Drydock’s owner Jim Pruitt, who has a long-term lease at SMIC with the city, pays his company’s insurance policy deductible, but he is part of the City’s joint municipal league insurance system, as a way to lower his insurance costs. The insurance policy will pay for the damage. But Councilwoman Ristine Casagranda nevertheless asked what would happen if the city’s own insurance policy increases as a result of this pay out. During contract negotiations, she thought that the shipyard owner would be responsible for needed repairs, Casagranda said.
“We own that,” said Councilwoman Marianna Keil, referring to the dock. The amount would be recoverable, said Assistant Manager Ron Long. No one present; councilmembers, city officials or harbor administrators could remember when Seward Ships had been added to the city’s insurance policy.