By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – At its regular meeting on May 7, Seward’s Port and Commerce Advisory Board learned that city administration would not support PACAB’s recommendation that City Council fund the installation of a public-use crane in the small boat harbor. Assistant city manager Ron Long explained that replacing worn out infrastructure such as harbor floats had higher priority than installing new equipment. PACAB had recommended that city of Seward budget about $30,000 for the design of a crane estimated to cost about $300,000 to purchase and install.
Long said, “I want to be very clear. It’s not that I’m opposed to a crane … it’s just that the harbor has higher priorities.”
Harbormaster Mack Funk said, “The bottom line is that we don’t have enough money to do everything we want to do,” echoing Long’s position of sticking with established priorities of replacing older floats.
PACAB had recommended that raw fish tax finance the crane, in effect, having commercial fishers who would most likely use the crane, pay for it. Long explained that about half the tax helped fund the harbor while half went into the city’s general fund. He suggested that the city would have to pay for the proposed crane with harbor maintenance and repair funds and from fees charged to all slip holders in the small boat harbor.
Upon learning of the funding source, PACAB Chair Deborah Altermatt said, “I never would have voted for that resolution [to recommend a crane] if I had known that financing would come from maintenance and repair funds.”
All board members present expressed disappointment and exhibited unwillingness to merely accept that city administration would not support the crane proposal in front of City Council. PACAB advises City Council, not city administration.
Board member Daryl Schaefermeyer said, “I don’t think that PACAB intended that the crane set aside other priorities, but that it could be added to Council’s list, perhaps for capital improvements.”
Board member Bob Linville expressed disappointment and stated that of the various ports in the region, only Seward lacked a public crane. Linville, himself a fisherman, maintained that fishers choose a homeport because of infrastructure and that they live near their boats. He expressed concern that the crane proposal would simply die.
Linville said, “When boats homeport here, that’s where the money comes from. It takes more than advertising [to attract boats]. Get infrastructure and then advertise that!”
Board member Bruce Jaffa said, “I’m a little disappointed. I think this project is still fully justified. Finding the funding seems to be the problem. I hate to see this go away.”
After discussing various funding possibilities, PACAB moved to place the crane proposal on its unfinished-business agenda and to find other means of paying for the crane. Assistant city manager Long said that he felt comfortable in exploring creative sources of financing the crane. Long anticipated a surplus of fish tax revenues again this year; surplus meaning revenues will exceed amounts budgeted for spending.
In matters unrelated to the crane, PACAB heard reports from the Railroad, Chamber of Commerce, harbor and city administration. Chamber will organize several fish derbies as usual this year. Railroad has applied for federal grants to expand its east dock in Seward. Harbor announced receipt of a federal grant for a new fish-cleaning station in the small boat harbor. City administration announced that Alaska Department of Fish and Game will require various measures before permitting the new breakwater at Fourth of July Creek.
PACAB approved one-half reimbursement of Chair Altermatt’s travel expenses to Seattle. Altermatt did not participate in the vote to reimburse her.