Council Votes to Forfeit Geothermal Grant

Wednesday, August 06 2014

Unalaska’s bid to develop geothermal power on Makushin Volcano is over for now.

City council voted last night to transfer its federal geothermal energy grant to the city of Akutan.

Unalaska got the $1 million matching grant from the Department of Energy back in 2009 -- but they haven't been able to work with the Aleut Corporation to use it at Makushin.

City manager Chris Hladick says the project isn't practical anymore: "The thing is far north of $300 million to build it," he said. "It’s the highest risk project that you could ever do."

The DOE is letting the city transfer the grant to Akutan, so they can work on a similar project. The $930,000 match that Unalaska had set aside for Makushin will go back into the city╒s general fund.

Also last night, councilors started working on revising changes to city zoning code that they rejected at their last meeting.

Councilor Dennis Robinson said he wants to add a three- to five-year time limit for construction camps, or make them last only as long as a project. He doesn’t want to see camps become a substitute for permanent housing.

City attorney Brooks Chandler said it’d be easy enough to legally enforce a set number of years for a camp to last, but harder to enforce a limit based on the end of a project.

"I mean, what if the project is ‘oil exploration in the Beaufort Sea?’ When is that ‘done’?" he said.

Mayor Shirley Marquardt was worried about forcing the removal of camps that could be reused. She also took issue with councilor Robinson’s feeling that temporary housing lets companies take advantage of the community:

"They need a place to put their folks all the time," she said. "And also, most of the construction crews that come up here are doing projects for the betterment of this community. They’re not just coming and taking resources and leaving -- they’re coming here and they’re leaving actual infrastructure that is a value to the community."

Another section of the zoning changes would ensure that landowners were legally recording subdivisions on their properties before renting them out. That process is called platting, and it involves paying to set up utilities and lot lines.

Councilors were concerned about creating extra cost and work for landowners, even in the case of small, short-term leases. Planning director Erin Reinders says that’s not their focus.

"The intent is -- when we’re really starting to establish some permanent development patterns for our community that are impacting all of us, that’s when we really need to have these subdivision-platting discussions, not when we’re talking about one person, out way off the utility grid," she said.

Still, councilor Dave Gregory was worried about those individual cases. He said landowners like the Ounalashka Corporation should have more say in the code before it’s finalized.

Also last night, councilors voted to approve a $340,000 project to tie in Alyeska Seafoods to the city’s electrical grid. And they approved an easement for Delta Western to run a fuel line across Ballyhoo Road to the city dock.

They got an update on litigation activities from Brooks Chandler, the city attorney. He said the city spent about $25,000 on legal fees last fiscal year. A big part of that went toward a settlement over faulty paving work done in 2013.

They also voted to finalize pay raises for some unionized PCR and ports employees, as recommended by the city compensation study. A budget amendment to reflect the new wages will get a public hearing at council’s next meeting.

Council also talked about the city’s upcoming Washington, D.C. lobbying trip. They voted to send councilors Tom Enlow, Zoya Johnson and Dennis Robinson and Mayor Shirley Marquardt to talk to federal officials about the Magnuson-Stevens act and Army Corps projects in Unalaska. They’ll also discuss their interest in building an Arctic port in Unalaska, and the possibility of making the city’s Coast Guard detachment into a long-term family duty station.

Council ended their meeting with a closed-door executive session to discuss a new contract for expanding the landfill. They didn’t take any final action on that project last night.

Their next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26.

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