July 12, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 28

Assembly supports ILP for Connelly project

The Haines Borough Assembly on a 4-2 vote Tuesday endorsed an integrated licensing process for the proposed Connelly Lake hydroelectric project.

The assembly also rejected a proposal to charge harbor slip renters an additional $45 per year garbage surcharge to offset increased costs, and sent to committee an ordinance to raise water and sewer rates.

Connelly Lake project developer Alaska Power and Telephone is seeking a traditional licensing process it characterizes as more flexible and $500,000 cheaper than the integrated process. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide the matter. Public comments are due July 19.

Glen Martin, general manager for licensing for AP&T, said the traditional process was “as complete and thorough a licensing process as (AP&T) and the agencies are willing to make it and as the public and (groups) are willing to participate in it.”

He said an electrical supply was key to a high standard of living and that Haines had a supply that could provide self-sufficiency for many years.

“The reason we’ve stated that the issues are not too complex is that there’s only one major issue: What will happen to the fish habitat of the Chilkoot River basin? While fish habitat itself can be complex, this does not make the overall issues complex. Granted, there are environmental, social, economic and ethnographic issues that must be studied as well, but we do not believe those issues are too problematic,” Martin said.

Assembly member Norm Smith called the extra expense of the integrated process “just the cost of doing business” and a fraction of the project’s construction costs.

“I don’t think this community is ready to trade the fishery and the economy it provides for supposed cheap power. I think the community would chop wood and burn candles to eat fish rather than support a project that would dissolve that,” Smith said.

Members Joanne Waterman and Jerry Lapp opposed the motion seeking an integrated process. Mayor Stephanie Scott supported the integrated process.

Waterman said influencing a decision on a licensing process wasn’t the assembly’s role.

“Our role is to identify what needs to be studied. It’s not necessarily the assembly’s role to convince FERC one way or another. To me, that’s just choosing sides and I don’t think that’s our role,” Waterman said.

The assembly instead should make a statement that wild salmon runs be given the time and study they deserve, she said.

Member Steve Vick said the integrated process “puts the community on even footing” with AP&T if questions arise about project studies. “The quality of the science is what the community wants, and I think (the integrated process) does that a lot better.”

Assemblyman Daymond Hoffman said he was happy to support the integrated process. “I’d apologize to AP&T if it’s less flexible and maybe costs more, but I think there’s a lot at stake here.”

Patty Kermoian was one of several residents who spoke for the integrated process. “I support hydroelectric power but believe the resources of the Chilkoot watershed are at high risk to development and require the highest level of environmental and cultural review,” she said.

Concerning the proposed sewer rate increase, Smith led discussion against it, saying the matter was discussed only briefly during the borough’s budget process last spring. “I don’t think this has been investigated thoroughly.”

Assemblywoman Debra Schnabel asked what would be achieved in committee that couldn’t be addressed during public hearings. Smith responded that he didn’t want to hear complaints from the public later. Smith’s proposal was supported by member Vick, Lapp and Hoffman.

Resident Joe Poor also spoke against the increase, saying that high prices for gasoline and garbage disposal here already were pushing senior citizens to give up on Haines. He pointed to properties for sale around town.

“Something is going on. I don’t know what it is. But Haines is getting too expensive and I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from increasing costs to those of us on fixed incomes,” Poor said.

Schnabel and Waterman were the only members of the assembly to support the garbage surcharge for harbor users.

Schnabel, who proposed the charge, noted that the harbor dumpster was paid for with tourism and public works funds, as well as by harbor users, and that volume goes up in early summer when fishermen are preparing their boats.

“I think it’s reasonable to ask people who are generating the larger amount of garbage to pay a higher rate (for) a higher usage,” Schnabel said. “I have a high respect for fishermen. That’s not the point. The point is that fishing is the only industry that currently has a subsidy of the public to take care of its garbage.”

Lapp said he opposed new taxes and he saw the fee as a tax. Borough manager Mark Earnest noted that the cost of disposal was increasing, so the question was a matter of who was going to pay the additional cost of disposal.

“We have the same harbor fee even though the harbor solid waste expense has gone up dramatically. That additional cost will be borne by the taxpayers, so it is a tax, but instead of users paying for a portion of the increase, the general taxpayers are going to be paying for that increase through what’s not generated by harbor users,” Earnest said.

Mayor Scott said fishermen were taxpayers, too, and latched on to a suggestion of re-allocating raw fish tax to fund harbor functions. Member Smith referred the harbor and water and sewer enterprise funds, which municipal officials maintain should be borne by users. “The harbor and water and sewer departments have never paid for themselves and they probably never will. That’s just the reality of it. There’s just not enough users.”

Also at the meeting, Earnest reported he expected to hire an executive assistant by week’s end. The full-time, benefitted job will pay $25 an hour.

Applicants include Chad Clark, a project manager and contractor from Virginia, Darsie Culbeck, special projects consultant for the borough, Klukwan tribal administrator John Brower, Michelle Webb, an administrative assistant at University of Alaska, John Miller, operations manager for a roofing and sheet metal company in Portland, Ore., and Haines consultant Cecily Stern.