Nome Common Council extends emergency ordinance
By Diana Haecker
The majority of the Nome Common Council in its regular meeting on Monday voted to extend an emergency ordinance that allows the city manager to act swiftly if a COVID-19 outbreak of cases in Nome occurs.
The ordinance was about to sunset on June 30 and is now extended until Sept. 30. The only dissenting vote came from Councilman Adam Martinson.
The ordinance gives the city manager the tools to “use all the resources of the City government as reasonably necessary to cope with the emergency.”
After hearing from several citizens during the citizen’s comment period, who asked to not extend the emergency ordinance, and hearing from medical professionals such as Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, who called in, and NSHC medical director Dr. Mark Peterson, the Council decided on keeping the ordinance on the books but to loosen travel mandates that so far had been successful in identifying cases coming into Nome and the region. Dr. Zink commended Nome and the region for its diligence over the past year to keep the virus at bay.
She stressed that getting vaccinated is still “our best chance to to get back to normal.” Asked by council member Jerald Brown about a recommendation on travel restrictions, she said: “This is up to you and how much risk tolerance you have.”
Without taking a formal vote, the Council instructed City Manager Glenn Steckman to do away with the travel mandates that asked travelers upon arrival in Nome to get tested at the airport and/ or to quarantine. Testing is now on a complete voluntary basis. There will be no longer city staff asking incoming passengers for their vaccination status or directing them into the testing tent, which is still up and running at the Nome airport. Incoming travelers also have the option to get vaccinated there.
In citizens comments hotel and B&B owner Judy Martinson complained that the Carrie M McLain Memorial Museum is still closed, and received the answer that the museum will open on July 7.
She said, echoing Jessica Farley’s comments, that she’s tired of answering her guests’ questions about travel restrictions and petitioned the council to do away with them. “What’s wrong with Nome? I think our town needs to open up,” she said. In another citizens comment period Martinson said that across the board, cities that didn’t shut down and those that did, all saw an infection rate of 10 percent. Dr. Mark Peterson asked to speak up and corrected her saying that Nome and the region saw an infection rate of 3.8 percent and no deaths, and that places like Bethel and the YK-Delta had at times an infection rate of 15-18 percent, with 22 deaths. Wasilla is at 10 percent. “You can’t say it’s 10 percent across the board,” he said. He also said that there is a delay of a month to finding out if the new Delta variant had made it to the region. He said the Delta variant is very dangerous, and the virus seeks out those at risk and unvaccinated, those who by choice don’t want to be vaccinated and children under 12 years old who don’t have a choice because no vaccine is available to them yet. He said in Hooper Bay there were 100 cases and one third of them children. “This Delta variant has a way of finding people that are not vaccinated,” he said. In a letter to the council, NSHC recommended to keep the emergency ordinance on the books until a vaccine for children under 12 has been approved. This could happen in early fall or October, Dr. Peterson said.
Discussion among council members turned to complaints how people are treated at the airport by city staff, to which Steckman took exception. He maintained that city staff are courteous and professional and that some passengers are frustrated and take it out on city staff. He said the other day a passenger shoved a city employee physically out of the way and in another incident an altercation occured inside the testing tent.
In the end, the Council did away with the travel mandates and voted to keep the emergency ordinance in place in case the situation required swift action during a time when council members may be not available for a meeting due to subsistence.
In other business, the Council voted in its second reading on an ordinance to lease property to GCI for a cell tower at the port for a 10-year period at $10,000 per annum. The lease can be renewed in five-year intervals after that with a price increase. The Council approved.
The Council also voted on a resolution to contract with the Nome Chamber of Commerce to run the Visitor Center for $200,000 per year.
The Council approved the hiring of Windward Strategies to continue their lobbying work on behalf of the City of Nome in Washington D.C.
The Council approved a resolution to participate in a USDOT grant program for funding of the port of Nome local service facilities design and engineering.
At last the Council approved a resolution to accept American Rescue Plan Act funds in an amount that was not set in stone but appeared to be short of $1 million.
Nome Joint Utilities’ manager Ken Morton reported that they wanted to retire the 100-ft wind turbines on Banner Peak and that TelAlaska showed interest to buy them as potential cell towers and take them down.
In his City Manager report, Glenn Steckman led with the good news that the Rec Center’s saunas will be opening soon. Rec Center staff is just looking for the rocks that were in the men’s sauna and once they are found, the sauna will open up again.
Mayor John Handeland announced that since Fourth of July falls on a Sunday, festivities will begin at noon. He also broke the sad news that Peggy Sherman-Luce passed on.
The next time the Common Council will convene is on July12.