It’s been almost three years since Sitka’s main haulout at Halibut Point Marine announced it would be closing shop. Since then, the Sitka Assembly has taken several avenues to try to get a haulout built: it has held special meetings, issued “requests for proposals” from the private sector, and sought federal funds, but it continues to clash to the same hurdle: the money just didn’t materialize. City administrator John Leach said it was not for lack of trying.
“As you have seen, we are applying for all available grants,” he said. “And it’s pretty much a daily task, trying to find funding sources and creative ways to do that.”
The city also tried to work with outside groups to build a haulout in the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. Last year, it approved a lease and request for proposals with the Sitka Community Shipyard, a grassroots group that had secured funding with the plan to convert the park’s existing infrastructure into a viable haulout. Last month, organizers said construction costs had more than doubled and they no longer had enough funding to complete the project. They therefore gave up their lease with the city in April. But the group still wants to work with the city to achieve a haulout.
While the assembly dangles hopes of another federal RAISE grant, this one may never materialize. If they win the grant, they may not know until this fall, which means whatever happens, a failing job is at least another year away, for a problem that is urgent for many. Without one, fishermen must remove their boats from town or repair them on the town grid.
Assemblyman Kevin Knox said it was time for the community to consider what it would mean to build a public hedge if grant funding does not materialize, and whether they should submit this issue to a public vote in the October municipal elections. Should the city fund the construction and operation of a haulout? And if so, should it be funded by a sales tax increase? An excise tax or a separate levy for large boat owners?
“There are all kinds of questions about how you are repaying this debt. How do you deal with debt service, if you’re out and bonded for it,” he said.
Leach said if the assembly wanted to publicly fund a haulout, he estimated it would cost between $10 million and $13 million. With user fees covering operating costs, this would end up costing the city about $620,000 a year in general fund grants to pay down the debt.
Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz was unsure whether pursuing a new tax was the right move, as these have been pushed back by the public in the past.
“I’m afraid the staff and sponsors are working hard on an order, which, you know, might do us good, but deep in our hearts, we all know…is going to fail the ballot,” Eisenbeisz said. .
Assemblyman Thor Christianson agreed that while there was a lot of community support for a haulout, they would see a backlash from the public who don’t own boats, and haulout supporters should be prepared to campaign for their cause.
“People who want the haulout facility are going to have some heavy lifting, just to encourage the rest of the community to support it,” he said. “Because there’s not really much we can do from here, nor should we advocate for it,” Christianson said. “The last time we raised taxes was for the PAC and the assembly had little or nothing to do with it.”
Assemblymen Thor Christianson and Kevin Mosher suggested a working session to consider possible public funding options, such as a new tax or fee, and requested that city staff present some “blanket” options to examine. Mayor Eisenbeisz also suggested that the assembly hold a town hall as a first step in gathering public input.
The assembly did not vote or decide on next steps. No member spoke strongly in favor of one funding option over another. But they all agreed that a haulout was needed, along with the money to build one.
The Assembly pledges to reduce the city’s carbon footprint
Energy costs and conservation were on the agenda when the Sitka Assembly met Tuesday (5-24-22). The group unanimously endorsed a resolution to “decarbonize” city operations by 2030.
Sponsor Kevin Mosher said the hope is to give the city an edge when applying for grants at a time when the federal government is funding projects that tackle environmental issues.
“It’s something to show outside entities that we have a plan, we’re moving forward,” Mosher said. And so it’s to give us a goal to work towards. And in my mind, what I see is that if we’re able to hire a sustainability coordinator, that would be their base load. »
The plan is to seek federal grants to expand the city’s electrical capacity on Halibut Point Road and, over time, to convert the city’s vehicle fleet to electricity and heat all municipal buildings to the electricity.
Dave Miller liked the resolution because it doesn’t lock the city into anything and could mean more savings in the future.
“It kind of pushes us forward and says, ‘We really need to start looking at this stuff. I mean, if we look at the price of fuel now, you know, it’s about double what it was not too long ago,” Miller said. “So we have to start figuring out how we can save a bit, whether it’s electric cars around town… there’s a whole variety of things we need to look at and see what really works for us.”
It was not the only energy decision taken by the assembly on Tuesday evening. The group voted unanimously to increase the city’s utility cost subsidy from $65 to $100 per month for eligible households. Kent Barkhau (Bar-COW) said he was glad the assembly was considering lowering the cost of public services for families in need, but thought there might be a way to address the affordability of public services and decarbonization all at once.
I think we could think of using that kind of investment, or that kind of funding, to start a program that provides heat pumps to families, to households, that are eligible for a subsidy, and so kind of reach two goals,” he said.
Finally, the assembly voted to join a group interested in establishing the first-ever “green cruising corridor” in Southeast Alaska. The Maritime Green Corridor First Mover Commitment was originally proposed by the Port of Seattle and is supported by most major cruise lines. It will explore the feasibility of zero-emission cruise ships and an industry transition away from carbon. Most of the assembly members agreed to join the group, including Crystal Duncan.
We know the cruise industry is extremely important to our economy here in Sitka,” Duncan said, adding. “If there are efforts to look at the environmental impact, I think we should take those steps.”
But Mosher asked that they wait a few months until they hire the sustainability coordinator and then consider joining the initiative.
The motion to join the Maritime Green Corridor Pledge passed by a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz and Kevin Mosher opposing.