Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly to tackle big agenda Tuesday


The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday will issue a six-month report card for newly-arrived manager Bill Seward to determine whether any course correction is necessary for one of Haines’ newest public officials.

The item is part of an already jam-packed agenda that became more crowded when the assembly’s Nov. 29 meeting was postponed due to bad weather that closed borough offices at midday.

Up for discussion is whether the assembly should reconsider approving an additional 33-foot-long extension of the steel breakwater barrier local fishermen and others say is critical to protect moored boats.

The controversial add-on, estimated to cost $385,000 as part of the Portage Cove Expansion project, was initially rejected by the assembly. Last month, the Ports and Harbor Advisory Committee voted unanimously to ask the assembly to re-examine the issue.

The harbor expansion project has divided residents. Critics say the project, estimated to cost between $32 million and $34 million, is too costly and has not been vetted by enough public input. Others say there has already been plenty of citizen scrutiny and the project should move forward.

Fishermen and other expansion proponents insist the longer breakwater wall allows for more slips, reducing congestion among the ever-growing fleet of work and pleasure craft that use the harbor.

The 33-foot segment was an “add-alternate” to the project, an optional element depending on funding. In voting against it, some assembly members questioned the aesthetic value of further blocking the views of Lynn Canal coveted by locals and cruise ship visitors.

Resident Joe Parnell has spoken in public meetings about his objection to the harbor expansion project. “In the first place, it’s just delusional that we needed a bigger harbor and that a longer seawall is a good idea,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to think we needed a 600-foot sea wall in the first place. Adding another 33 feet is just more ridiculous,” he said.

On Tuesday, borough manager Seward is also slated to give his recommendations on a controversial plan to enlarge backcountry areas around Haines for heliski companies to drop off and pick up adventure skiers. Some 14 new area expansions are under consideration.

Haines is considered a mecca for extreme skiers with its long runs and 3,000-foot vertical drops. Three local companies have heliskiing permits, but Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures and Alaska Heliskiing have stepped up to advocate for redrawing local maps to expand heliski runs in 14 areas.

Many residents oppose the expansion, saying the constant thump of helicopters repeatedly ferrying skiers up and down the mountain impinges on residents, hikers and backcountry skiers within earshot. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has also been critical of the expansions, saying the noise and landing places will hinder bears and mountain goats that make their home in the wilderness outside Haines.

Fish and Game is awaiting the results of several studies next year to further determine animal populations.

Last month, the heliski map committee, comprised of a few citizens, borough assembly member Ron Jackson and two members of the heliski industry, gave its recommendations to Seward.

Seward said he reviewed the recommendations on Wednesday with committee chairman Ron Jackson. “I’ll be endorsing a good portion of what they recommended,” he said. “As long as the committee arrived at a unanimous consent, I’m good with things. Those things that weren’t unanimous, I won’t recommend.”

Seward, the father of two boys, aged 21 and 23, said he isn’t worried about any negative feedback from the borough assembly. “I think we’ve done a great job. But one thing I will tell you is it’s impossible to make everyone happy,” he said.

“There is just so much citizen participation here. Far above anywhere else I’ve lived in my entire life, people in Haines actively engage with their government.”

Prior to his hiring in May, Seward, a Kodiak-born Tlingit Native, served in the military for nearly three decades and was lastly a Coast Guard director of auxiliary and recreational boating safety in Miami, Fla. During his assembly interview, he emphasized his creative problem-solving skills and penchant for helping his staff succeed.

Haines Borough Clerk Julie Cozzi said Seward’s contract called for a review after six months and one year on the job. After that, he’ll undergo an annual review.

“Those will be more involved,” Cozzi said. “This will be a quick check, like taking a look at the oil under the hood. Sometimes, bad habits develop the longer people go without review.”

She called the relationship between the assembly and the manager like a marriage.

“This will be a chance for the assembly to weigh in with suggestions or just give him a ‘Yeah, atta boy!’ It’s also a chance for Bill to talk about his concerns.”

She said Seward’s review will be conducted in an executive session unless he opts for a public hearing.

Seward said he’s going to request the session remain public.

“Good, bad or indifferent, I want the public to know,” he said. “Am I going to get constructive feedback? Absolutely.”

Due to the assembly log-jam, several matters are being pushed to January, including a motion by assembly member Tom Morphet to do away with the heliski map committee and shift its duties to the assembly.

Morphet, the owner of the Chilkat Valley News who was elected to the assembly in October, ran on a platform that included reducing borough time spent on the helisking issue, which he said is “consuming energies better spent elsewhere.”

Tuesday’s agenda is expected to be so full of items the assembly could vote to end the meeting at 10 p.m. and pick up at a later time, probably the following evening.


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