Last month, the state sunk an abandoned boat that has plagued western Alaska for months -- but it did so before securing a funding contribution from Unalaska.
The City Council has debated whether to help pay for the F/V Akutan’s removal all year. Many councilors worry about setting a precedent that could encourage other mariners to abandon vessels near town. But others say the city needs to contribute because the Akutan posed environmental risks to the community.
The processor was abandoned in September following a disastrous fishing season in Bristol Bay, in which the ship’s owner went broke, the crew went unpaid, and its 158,000 pound haul of salmon was declared unfit for human consumption.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources took possession of the vessel in mid-January and started looking for partners to share in the cost of sinking the ship. The state requested the city contribute $36,000 for removal, towing, and ammunition costs.
For the past four meetings, the council has debated the issue. Ports and Harbor Director Peggy McLaughlin says councilors need to decide if they want to finance the “clean-up of a problem the city did not create.”
“When we have vessels coming to us, what does that mean?" McLaughlin said. "Who do we hold accountable for exit strategies and what assets are we supposed to provide? And what ultimately is our responsibility as a community?”
Councilor Roger Rowland says Unalaska shouldn’t pay a cent to deal with the Akutan.
“It’s not our problem. We didn’t ask for it, and I don’t want to set the precedent. We’re on a shipping route that has millions and millions of dollars’ worth of vessels going by. If one of them comes in here, it’s not going to be $30,000. It’s going to be millions -- and ‘Oh, the city will do it. They did it last time.’”
But Mayor Frank Kelty says the city should chip in.
“$31,00 is a small investment for protection of that habitat in that area," Kelty said. "Even if the investment [went] up to $200,000, I would support it.”
The council is expected to make a final funding decision tonight.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin has also recommended the council reconsider the city’s designation as a “potential port of refuge.” That’s the title that originally led the Akutan to Unalaska waters.
“While we did not agree to have the Akutan dumped in our city limits, we are part of that ‘potential port of refuge’ designation that came out of the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment that followed up the Selendang Ayu,” McLaughlin said.
The Selendang Ayu was a bulk carrier ship that ran aground off Unalaska Island in 2004, leaving six crew members dead and spilling more than 336,000 gallons of oil and 66,000 tons of soybeans into the water.
The council is expected to discuss the port's designation at a future meeting.