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

New assembly weighs sauna location, bears


October 24, 2019 | View PDF

The Haines Borough Assembly met Tuesday for the first time with newly elected members Gabe Thomas, Paul Rogers and Zephyr Sincerny. The assembly discussed residents’ concerns regarding increased bear activity in town, the requested relocation of a sauna that’s been five years in the making and assembly member Sean Maidy’s effort to launch a special election.

Haines Dolphin Swim Team board members and staff objected to the placement of a sauna, the construction and placement of which was approved by the assembly five years ago. Since then, more than 50 people have donated a total of about $10,000 to purchase the facility and the location has changed multiple times during the process.

Swim coach Jackie St. Clair said since the sauna was approved five years ago, the swim team has doubled in size and that the current planned location would require moving timing equipment. She said the location would prevent the team from being able to host meets in Haines.

“This is directly impacting us and we’d like to open a conversation and see how we could address this situation,” St. Clair said.

The dimensions of the sauna are built to fit that space, a space chosen by former public facilities director Brad Ryan. Swim team president Rich Chapell said one solution could be to build a platform and put the timing equipment on top of the sauna, an idea that was promoted a year ago.

The assembly voted 6-0 to have borough staff give the needs of the swim team priority as the project moves forward.

Chapell told the CVN that he’ll need to talk to St. Clair and the board to determine the best way forward.

During public comment, Don Turner Jr asked the assembly to address concerns about increased bear activity in town. Borough police have received more than 50 bear calls. Cruise ship workers were charged by a bear in September. Two bears have been seen near the school, Turner said.

“Part of the problem is caused by people. Now that the bears are here, there’s something that has to be done about it,” Turner said. “I would like the assembly to direct the manager to talk to the (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) commissioner.”

When borough manager Debra Schnabel asked how the borough should address the problem, Thomas said he’d like to see police issue more citations to people who create bear attractants.

“I would like to see more citations...moving forward to make people more aware,” Thomas said. “We can only be proactive when it attacks your pocketbook. If people know they’re getting fined, they’re going to be less likely to leave stuff out.”

Maidy said residents should hold themselves and each other accountable. “We live in Alaska,” Maidy said. “No matter what we do there’s going to be bears and it’s about being responsive and living with them.”

Schnabel said the borough has removed garbage cans at Tanani Point, Picture Point and Tlingit Park and closed the bathrooms to prevent people from depositing trash in them.

At the beginning of the meeting, Maidy made a motion to “follow borough charter by restricting the Haines Police to the townsite service area.” The motion failed due to lack of a second. At the end of the meeting, Maidy made clear his intent.

“I would like to start the process of a special election in order to amend the Haines Borough Charter to incorporate police power boroughwide,” Maidy said. “Right now, in our charter, it is not lawful for our police to leave the Haines townsite.”

Maidy, who advocated for a special election in August, told the CVN this week that emergency dispatch, allowed boroughwide, does not cover police response, as per the advice of borough attorney Brooks Chandler.

Brenda Josephson interprets code differently and described Maidy’s proposal for special election as “gamesmanship.”

“The public has already voted on this and they said ‘No,’” Josephson said of last year’s election where voters outside the townsite rejected increasing property tax to create new police service areas. “The argument has been that it has been illegal for them to respond. It is not illegal for them to respond. Emergency dispatch includes an activity which includes sending help. The fact that this is being brought up again, this is gamesmanship.”

While Maidy said such a charter change would not create a funding mechanism, Schnabel said at an August meeting that once such a power is authorized boroughwide, a level of service and a funding mechanism could be established.

“You can change the charter and provide for it, but if you don’t provide for it in the budget, then it’s not going to happen,” Schnabel told the CVN.

The special election will be on the agenda for the assembly’s Nov. 12 meeting.

The assembly Tuesday also approved unanimously an $8,400 funding request from Becky’s Place, a domestic violence shelter. Assembly member Stephanie Scott wanted to permanently fund Becky’s Place each year, but the assembly took no action on the matter.

It also approved the hire of Ed Coffland as public facilities director. The former assembly voted to wait until the newly elected members were seated before considering the hire.


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