Heidi Zemach for SCN
Seward City mayoral and council candidates shared their hopes and dreams for Seward Wednesday night in a civil “Meet the Candidates” night, sponsored by the Seward Chamber of Commerce. There were a few sparks between mayoral candidates Tim McDonald and Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson however, beginning when McDonald began his introductory speech by saying, “nice speech,” to Bardarson, then commenting that if the city had enacted term-limits, which he favors, his opponent would be over them.
Seward High School teacher Chad Hinders amiably moderated the affair and posed the questions to candidates that his students had collected or that were phoned in, or written by attendees who filled most of the seats of the Council Chambers.
The high point in terms of barb-trading occurred when Bardarson and McDonald were allowed to ask direct questions of one another.
First, McDonald took Bardarson to task for extending the Seward Ships lease and operating agreement with the City of Seward for an additional 40 years (till the year 2040) at Seward Marine Industrial Center without holding a public discussion for something that would be for the city a “zero net gain,” and by not requiring that the shipyard pay for the use of SMIC. Those discussions were held in “executive sessions,” behind closed doors, and their contents were not discussed, nor explained prior to the vote during public meetings.
“I contend that it’s asset stripping and that the city has been defrauded of $20-30 million, and that it’s a complete giveaway of city’s assets,” McDonald said. The shipyard’s ground lease is worth $250 thousand a year, he contended, yet the city does not charge the shipyard for use of the property or related assets. Rather, under the operating agreement, all that the Seward Ships must do in exchange for the rights to operate there is to maintain the shipyard-related assets for the city.
“The city gets zero revenue from that where we’re due money off the top,” McDonald said. “We own it, it’s our shipyard.”
In any industry there are positives and negatives, Bardarson countered. The council had no choice but to extend the city’s contract with the shipyard based on the terms of the contract, she said. The contract is not something one can renegotiate midstream, she said. On the plus side, many people make a living at the facility.
Next, it was the vice mayor’s turn. Bardarson referred to McDonald’s attempts over the last few years to have the council consider alternate locations to SMIC for major harbor development, such as his own plans to sell for development his family beachside property along Mile 2 of Nash Road. Bardarson asked whether McDonald would continue to make that personal gain a priority if elected mayor.
He would not, McDonald responded. His frequent talks at council meetings, including an in-depth presentation one meeting by himself and fellow family members, were merely to point out to the council that the city should have considered alternative locations for development across the bay, rather than focusing exclusively on SMIC, he said.
Both candidates agreed that development of a new breakwater and harbor facilities at SMIC were likely to drive the economy forward in a positive way in coming years, and should be a top priority. They agreed it was needed with the Seward home-porting of Coastal Villages’ fishing fleet, the opening of Arctic shipping routes, and increased freight and ship traffic generally, seeking an ice free port in Alaska.
Bardarson touted her seven years of experience as vice mayor, and four on the council, her local business experience, and annual trips on the city’s behalf to visit with economic partners and representatives in Juneau, Washington DC, and Seattle, as why she is best qualified to be mayor. Bardarson said she understands the challenges of maintaining a small business, enjoys numbers, and listens to resident’s concerns before making the tough decisions for the good of all. Her most proud achievements, she said, are the research vessel Sikuliak, which will be based in Seward, and Seward Mountain Haven long term-care facility.
McDonald listed his qualifications for the job. He has a homestead property that attracts hundreds of sports fishermen to the estuary and beach every summer to protect, has worked as a commercial fisherman, and is an experienced mariner, and more recently Seward’s representative on the board of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. He understands commercial fishing fleets, vessels and their needs, and also is sensitive to the need to protect estuary habitat for fish and other species, McDonald said. He therefore would also be in an ideal position to help guide council decisions on SMIC harbor development. McDonald said several times that he would know when to “draw the line,” however, and would work to protect the quality of life for community residents above all; assure that their infrastructure is in good repair; that city costs don’t get out of hand, and minimize cost-overruns for its projects. His most proud accomplishment if elected mayor would be establishing a 1.8 mile hiking/biking trail similar to the boardwalk at Bird Creek or the Homer waterfront from the airport, along Nash Road, and connecting to the National Historic Iditarod Trail. McDonald also would like to see babies delivered at the local hospital, as he was.