Can Unalaska afford to build the multi-million dollar Unalaska Marine Center? And how can the city pay for it? Those questions were a focus of last night’s city council meeting.
Port manager Peggy McLaughlin says Unalaska is at a turning point.
“If we don’t do this now, what are those costs going to be to us in the future?" McLaughlin said. "If we do this now, are we truly going to be able to make ends meets? Is the port really going to be able to cover those expenses and what happens if we delay this project? What are those risks?”
The project is estimated to cost more than $40 million. Without sweating – McLaughlin says – there’s $11 million the port department can chip in. But that still leaves about $30 million to scrape together.
Right now, McLaughlin says the city has a lot in its favor: the costs of steel and fuel are down; interest rates are low, but climbing; and contractors are hungry for projects.
It’s a gamble between current cost savings and how comfortable the council is with the risk of a hefty price-tag.
Another risk, McLaughlin says is one of the dock positions – number three – might only make it another couple years.
“If we don’t rebuild that," she said. "If and when the economic diversity comes our way, in terms of arctic shipping, gas and oil, ecotourism, or whatever the new thing is going to be, we’re behind the eight ball.”
That slot houses research vessels, cruise ships, and boats needing repairs.
Councilor Roger Rowland says he thinks of the project of a $20 million job.
“We either spend $22 million and maintain what we have," Rowland said. "Or we spend another $20 million -- for a total of $42 million -- and we start gaining volumes and we’re positioned for the future.”
He says the city has to do something. McLaughlin says if that dock is not repaired, Unalaska will struggle to maintain a place for the Alaska Marine Highway.
She says the new dock would be expected to last 40 years; 15 more years than it would take to finance it.
Nothing was finalized, but City Manager Dave Martinson stressed there still are two opportunities to bail– once financing has been identified and once bids are in. Both those require council approval to proceed.
In other news, the Council touched on future commercial marijuana regulations.
Overall, the present council members seemed to be in agreement.
For now, they’re ok with the idea of a free market controlling the number of businesses. They’re interested in adding an additional 3% sales tax to marijuana and potentially alcohol and tobacco, too.
Later this month, they’ll look into options for buffer zones – extra restrictions – on where pot-businesses can exist.
Also, the council has filled its last vacant seat. Rachelle Hatfield was appointed to take over seat G – the seat Frank Kelty resigned to become mayor.
Hatfield hasn’t been sworn in yet because she currently works for the city. She plans to resign from her job as a recreation assistant at the PCR and take the oath of office at the next city council meeting. Four others expressed interest in the position, including Killian Baker, Jeff Treannie and Chris Price who all ran for local government positions this fall.
And former mayor and city councilor, Shirley Marquardt was honored for her more than 20 years of service to the community.
The City Council will hold its next meeting -- and last meeting of the year -- December 27th.