Council continues to push port
The mantle of public service rested heavy on most of the public’s Nome Common Council members evidenced by several rounds of bellyaching Monday evening, on behalf of the public.
Still, councilman Lew Tobin and councilman Tom Sparks remained in good spirits throughout, while other members of the panel groused about this and that. Sparks attended by telephone.
The council had concerns on issues ranging from the port study, to snow removal, to city budget adjustments, to safety issues on Greg Kruschek Rd., to what they wanted included or excluded from of the local weekly newspaper. Compliments flowed to the Nome Volunteer Fire Dept., the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Dept. and Iditarod volunteers for years of service to the community.
Councilman Matt Culley was tired of study after study on Nome’s proposed deep draft port, he said. The study under discussion was the same study that the city has been trying to get onto state and federal funding tables for several years, a study jointly sponsored by state Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mayor Richard Beneville and Joy Baker, port director explained.
The agencies hit the study’s pause button several months ago after Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of resource exploration plans in the Chukchi Sea and points north, and other resource companies showed little interest, eroding a federally mandated cost-benefit ratio for the port project.
More recently, Bering Straits Native Corp. received land in the Port Clarence area, location of another potential deep draft port site. He didn’t know whether he should mention it, Beneville said, but city officials have been talking to Gail Schubert, BSNC President and CEO, with the idea of combining efforts for regional port infrastructures.
Port planning was getting away from “we” and “they,” Beneville said. “The powers that be recognize this is much more than Nome. There are larger things afoot.”
“ A lot of people” were complaining to him, Culley said, that port interests, say, like Baker, were continuing to push a dead port issue to prolong their jobs.
Councilman Stan Andersen said he wanted those involved to stop hinting around about combined efforts and discuss the port effort openly.
City Manager Tom Moran took up some slack. “We have gone ahead with a more united front to capitalize on what is going on at Port Clarence,” he said, adding that the two sites were not mutually exclusive. “There is infrastructure here and deep water there” and Port Clarence was a longer-range project while Port of Nome improvement and expansion was a shorter-range project.
Beneville has been traveling to meet with federal and state officials to help lobby for $3.25 million in design money that port advocates think would lead to funding for a deep draft port that would be of importance nationally as well as a boon to local economic development, he told the council. His written reports are on file and included in council packets.
Within the Feb. 8 meeting packet Beneville had enclosed a copy of a letter he had written to the federal Office of Management and Budget, underlining the strategic importance of a deep-draft port in Nome:
“While we rely on our Canadian neighbors to the east for military readiness in the Arctic, our neighbor to the west continues to make strategic military investments in the region off the coast of Alaska. In the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Obama, Senator Sullivan of Alaska included an amendment that requires the Dept. of Defense to create an Arctic Operations Plan that will ensure this nation protects and asserts its sovereignty in the Arctic region, promotes and advances the commercial interests as new trade routes are established, and protects the freedom of navigation,” Beneville’s letter reads. “I urge the White House and Dept. of Defense to designate Nome a strategic national port that will serve this nation’s preparedness and readiness in the region.
“I request that the Corps of Engineers be directed to complete the feasibility study and deliver to Congress a report of the chief of engineers that justifies this minus 36 ft. Mean Low Low Water project based on the needs of national security, support of response to climate change, and the need of the nation to facilitate the ongoing self-determination of many Alaska Native communities who benefit from improved port facilities at Nome. The requirement for a positive benefit-cost ration should also be waived,” Beneville wrote.
In other business, the council approved budget amendments for the six current FY 2016 spending plans—general fund, Port of Nome, capital budget, capital projects budget (school projects), special revenue fund budget, and debt service fund budget. Beneville recessed the meeting for public hearing on each budget amendment, but there were no comments from the public.
Councilman Louis Green heard from constituents too, he said, concerning City of Nome public works snow clearing equipment operating on private property. That did not sit well with private equipment operators that were out of work.
“They get a little up in arms,” Green said.
It was explained that the late Greg Kruschek as equipment operator had served the public by clearing as close to buildings as possible, to remove the snow before others cleared away snow on their property and piled it in the streets.
Green advised that people were clearing their property and piling snow in the streets, but then public works operators were shoving the snow out of the street and back onto private property.
“Good for them,” Councilman Jerald Brown said, in support of that idea.
Andersen wants a policy in writing saying that Nome Joint Utility System intends to apply measures like property liens for unpaid utility bills, “something in writing so public knows you are going after these people,” he told John K. Handeland, utility manager.
Was his policy going to apply to everyone with an overdue bill, Green asked?
Yup, Handeland said. He also had the good news that people who were out of town during signup for the NSEDC power or fuel subsidy would have another chance.
“Like Santa Claus, we’re making a list and checking it twice,” Handeland said, to make sure all eligible would receive the generosity of NSEDC.
At the end of the meeting, Baker, also attending by phone, set Culley straight concerning her “effort to achieve the deep draft port to keep my job.” Her job went far beyond hustling for the port, she said. For 25 years, the Port and City of Nome’s interests had come first, and she had given “150 percent.”
If the port does not happen, “I will be the first to remove myself to remove the salary burden,” Baker vowed.
Wait a minute, Culley reacted. Job preservation as regards advocating the deep draft port had not been his idea, but within his summary of criticism he was getting from constituents, Culley said.
As happens from time to time, the owner-maintenance arrangement on Greg Kruschek Rd. came up in the context of speed limit and safety. The State of Alaska owns the road and has set the speed limit at 40 mph. However, in response to pedestrian safety concerns, the city has posted a 30-mph limit. The road was built as a bypass for rock-hauling trucks and other construction traffic, to quickly skirt Nome, Culley pointed out. The state refuses to lower the speed limit. Foot traffic to and from the hospital has raised safety issues.
Hospital planners knew the road was a construction route when they built the hospital along side, Culley observed, and now the Norton Sound Regional Hospital organization wants a slower speed limit and pedestrian pathway accommodation, he said. The council would like the State of Alaska to take over maintenance and ownership.
Beneville reappointed Ken Hughes III, the only applicant, to the Nome Planning Commission. Hughes, five years a Nome resident, has spent seven years as mayor of Teller and six years on the BLM Northern Alaska Advisory Council.