By Heidi Zemach for SCN –
The Seward City Council last night awarded a liquor license to The Cookery, a new downtown eating establishment that offers fresh Alaskan oysters and small portions of “hand-crafted” food prepared by award-winning chef Kevin Lane and his wife Stacy.
Council also approved a city lease extension of 13 years on the lot upon which Aurora Charters sits at Seward Boat Harbor, with two additional 33-year options. The lessees, Carl and Kim Hughes, also asked that their son John Hughes be added to the lease. The Hughes have owned the fishing charter business and retail store on the site since obtaining the lease in 1997. Carl Hughes told the council he’d left a lucrative career in construction, which took him far and wide behind, to settle in Seward, where he and his wife Kim could run a business and so he could come home and see the children every day. Now their son John has grown up, and wants to inherit the business and do the same in the beautiful town he loves, John told the council. The fishing charter business, next to Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours, caters mainly to summer tourists. It has grown from a small mom and pop operation to one with four boats and 11 employees.
The council, which recently acted to create performance requirements on other parcels of leased land, almost postponed the lease extension after suggesting amendments, but after much discussion, they realized that the amendments that they directed the city manager to do, could be done administratively. The main amendment required that the Hughes actually use the building to conduct business, whereas previously the lease had only required that a building be constructed on the land. Another condition mandates that the owners be current on all their taxes.
Council also approved the use of $211,000 capital credit refund from Chugach Electric Association to extend city electrical service to key portions of Seward Marine Industrial Center, known as SMIC, across the bay, and add some electrical infrastructure at the Spring Creek Substation. The extension will supply electric power to nine lots that do not have power, and make some other city leased parcels able to get power, and thereby promote the development of those lots. Those with leases, or property owners, would still have to pay to bring the city power into their businesses.
Power lines would run from Spring Creek Substation and along streets including Jellison Avenue to Mustang Avenue, continuing up to Olga Street. The move also would show the state that the city is making a good faith effort to contribute to the development of SMIC, said City Manager Jim Hunt.
The council passed a few resolutions on the consent agenda, meaning without individual votes or discussion. One supported Qutekcak Native Tribe’s efforts to gain Federal recognition. If it gains such recognition by the federal government, Qutekcak could fully exercise its sovereignty and access programs, services, and funding provided to federally-recognized tribes and their members through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, Institute of Library and Museum Services and other agencies. The resolution requests that Alaska’s Federal Delegation encourage Federal recognition of the tribe. Another resolution on the consent agenda that passed easily set the local property tax rate (Mill rate) at 3.12 Mills for FY 2015, leaving the rate unchanged. A third resolution accepts a $6,000 grant award that provides the volunteer fire department with wildfire fighting equipment.
In Citizens Comments, council heard from Richard Noren, who owns a home in upper Forest Acres subdivision, near the Seward Transfer Facility. Noren asked that he be exempted from the city’s mandatory requirement that everyone pay for weekly trash pickup services. He’s often out of town, and when he is in Seward, he delivers his own trash and recycling to the transfer facility, he said. He doesn’t feel he should pay for a service he doesn’t want and doesn’t use. The wind often blows around any garbage that people leave out, creating messes, he added. “I don’t know how any of you can rationalize this thing to me. I ask you to look at the welfare of the community,” Noren said, and added that the council could give citations to those who bury or burn their waste, or otherwise create health hazards.
Noren is one of several Seward property owners in recent months to have come before the council to complain about the code requirement, which had been approved earlier by voters. They’re becoming more vocal now because of a new enforcement mechanism put in place by Alaska Waste Inc., and the city staff, working together, whereby non-payers are first warned, then threatened with the city shutting off their electricity within 30 days of the notice. There are now only 20 customer households refusing to pay, said Hunt, indicating that the system is working, and that most find it reasonable. Marianna Keil told Noren that voters had approved the mandate for services. From the comments, one could sense an empathy beginning to evolve for those who truly can’t afford to pay the bill, or those who live out of town for most of the year, and a willingness to at least search for a fair solution to the dilemma. City Finance Director Kris Erchinger has explained that for a company like Alaska Waste Inc to agree to provide door to door pickup service in a small town like Seward, there has to be a certain number of paying customers guaranteed. If only certain people get the service, while others don’t, as in the past, some people who don’t pay for garbage pickup will sneak stuff into their neighbor’s garbage, or bury their trash, hide it in the forest, or use other available receptacles, she said.
Finally, council members and city staff expressed they are becoming antsy about two issues. The first, the understaffed library museum, which is resulting in fewer open hours and days. Second, an upcoming discussion and decision they must soon make about whether to have the Seward Community Health Clinic continue to apply for up to $1 million in federal funding to remodel and enlarge the Providence Seward Medical & Care Center/CHC Clinic. The local portion needed to complete both the clinic, and hospital could be up to $7-8 million dollars. CHC board of directors gave them a lengthy list of questions to address first, including whether they would like to see the hospital continue at its current location, which is near the base of the rather precarious Lowell Creek Canyon. They heard growing frustration from Hunt, and Ron Long, the assistant city manager, about not having enough time over the busy summer season to make such an important, multi-faceted decision. Nevertheless, a work-session is planned on the matter Jne 18th, at 5:30 p.m.