Heidi Zemach for SCN
There was plenty of dignified speechmaking, gift-giving, and folks documenting the big event with cameras and videos at Monday night’s August 27, 2013 Seward City Council meeting. The City of Seward formally introduced a high-level delegation from its Sister City of Obihiro Japan, visiting for Seward’s 110th Founders Day this Wednesday. The delegation included Obihiro Mayor Norihisa Yonezawa, City Council President Katsunori Nohara, International & Domestic Relations section staff Takahiro Nishioka, and International & Domestic relations section interpreter Josh Neta.
Each Japanese delegate was introduced as council members and administrators stood before the dais, shook hands, and graciously traded handshakes and gifts. They received miniature horses, in keeping with Obihiro’s racing tradition. There will be much more ceremony to come at the Founder’s Day Celebration at Seward Library Museum from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., with speeches scheduled by members of the Resurrection Bay Historical Society on different aspects of Seward’s storied history, a public reception, and perhaps some old songs by Sue McClure on the museum’s pump organ. A selection of gifts from Obihiro to Seward over the past 45 years will be on display in the foyer display case.
Official proclamations also went out to:
-Rowan Bean, a nine-year old from Seward who represented Alaska with her mango ceviche recipe in the National “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge” at the Kid’s State Dinner in Washington D.C. this summer.
-the Seward Historical Association on behalf of the 110th Anniversary of Seward Founder’s Day.
-Veteran Inupiat journalist Jeanie Greene, a pioneer of a new genre of television journalism who fostered better reporting from rural Alaska villages, allowing the residents who lived there to tell their own stories on her long-lasting public television series, Heartbeat Alaska. That concept was adopted and has been modeled by 25 tribes in five different languages worldwide. Greene dedicated several in the series to Seward themes including the Qutecak Native Tribe’s Sobriety Pow Wow, the Fourth of July Parade, and the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Without much discussion the council held public hearings on, and enacted two non-code ordinances. One completed the tax foreclosure process on a home at 408 Madison Street that has seen better days, and allows it to be demolished, removed, and cleared by a neighbor on an adjacent property, at no charge to the city. The building was considered an eyesore and a hazard. The property owner, Darwin E. Wood died January 2010, leaving no heirs willing to take ownership of, or responsibility for the parcel.
Speaking of Wood, a man who he considered a mentor, and in remembrance so that the city’s action would not merely be a routine housekeeping item , Tim McDonald highlighted a few of Wood’s skills and accomplishments. “Woody was one of the guys that really made Alaska,” he said. He was a WWII Veteran who fought in the Pacific Theater, a skiff fisherman during the ‘50s who hauled halibut by land. He probably worked on 100 boats during his lifetime, and “built” Seward’s bars by drinking there until he finally quit, McDonald said. “He never made any big splash, but was always there.”
McDonald, who is running for mayor in the upcoming municipal election, asked the city to consider doing something with the small non-conforming piece of property, such as creating a little green area with a bench, and suggested they slow down vehicles that speed through the area. Physically demonstrating his actions, McDonald showed how he made the driver of a vehicle that was speeding through the area hit his breaks when he stepped out into the street in front of it, Tiananmen Square-style.
An item that caused considerable discussion was the growing cost of the city electric department’s new warehouse being built off Sea Lion Avenue, near the backup generator facility. Council member Christy Terry led the pack in questioning specifics of its cost. She had earlier asked for a detailed accounting of those costs, but what the council received was not everything that they had hoped for. A former Seward City planner herself, who oversaw the construction of Seward Mountain Haven, Terry said she fears the costs of the project are escalating uncontrolled. City Manager Jim Hunt contends they are only a fraction above the contracted budget amount. Unforeseen costs include time spent removing buried stumps (of an unknown character) in the earth where the warehouse foundation is to go. At their last meeting the council knocked down a proposal establishing a system of floor heating throughout the building that wasn’t in the original calculated cost, but earlier agreed to an $86,500 change order to install a vapor barrier, insulation, and PEX tubing that also wasn’t there. Monday, council was divided over a new proposal to install ceiling-mounted heat units in only the office areas, and whether they would be adequate to the task, and at a comparatively better price.
The perceived problems with vagrants, inebriates, garbage, and the potential for danger to the general public at the underground pedestrian tunnel that runs below Seward Highway near Safeway also was discussed. Questioned about what the police were doing to assure public safety, Seward Police Chief Tom Clemons said SPD was doing all it could, but that underground tunnels were known magnets for such issues statewide. Unfortunately, he said, established laws against vagrancy, inebriation and public loitering have all been ruled unconstitutional by the State of Alaska, so there’s little enforcement that the department can do. Also, the tunnel belongs to the Alaska Department of Transportation, which built it, so shutting it down, as has been done in Anchorage, would be DOT’s call.