Local News

Assembly wrap-up: Blue Lake contractor gets more money, Pacific High discussion surprises district

At its regular meeting last night, the Sitka Assembly added $1.1 million to a contract with an engineering firm working on the Blue Lake Dam.

But city officials say the costs were expected, and that the overall project is still under budget.

City Utility Director Christopher Brewton says the extra money for Hatch Acres is needed to cover additional design work on the dam. But he also says the company admitted to some inefficiencies on its side, and knocked about a half million dollars off the bill as a result. The total Hatch contract is nearly $9 million.

Even though officials say the extra charges were expected, they still expressed some displeasure with Hatch Acres. Dean Orbison, with the city’s Electric Department, told the Assembly that Hatch didn’t meet deadlines during the recent part of the project.

“They were slow in getting things done and they didn’t do quite as well as I would have liked,” Orbison said. “As you recall, when we signed the professional services agreement with Hatch, we said we’re breaking this project into four parts.”

Orbison says the fourth part of the project – construction management – will be put back out for bid, instead of given to Hatch, as was originally hoped. The company will still get about $800,000 to participate in construction engineering.

Orbison says the city is putting the fourth part of the project back out for bid because missing deadlines during the construction phase could cause big problems.

“If we had delays, and difficulty getting things done during construction, you’ve got a contractor standing on the job site waiting to be paid,” he said. “You can’t wait around because someone didn’t get around to it. I don’t want to do that.”

New regulations
The city’s electric department also led off last night’s meeting by telling the Assembly about a new EPA regulation it hopes will be overturned.

Sitka, like a lot of Alaska communities, uses massive diesel generators to help produce electricity. New rules from the Environmental Protection Agency will require additional equipment and testing to monitor the output of those generators. The federal government wants the work done by May of 2013.

But in a memo to the Sitka Assembly, Brewton calls the regulation “overkill.” He says it would require nearly $800,000 of new equipment, plus work and testing that would bring the cost to nearly a million dollars. Brewton says the regulation makes allowances for rural areas, but that it considers Sitka to be urban, along with Angoon, Tenakee, Kake, Hoonah and Hollis.

Brewton called the new regulation a good-news-bad-news story, and said the good news is that Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is seeking an exemption to the rule.

Pacific High vote catches district off-guard
During her regular report at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Sitka Assembly, Mayor Cheryl Westover mentioned that plans to renovate Pacific High School will be voted on by the Assembly soon.

The city owns Sitka’s school buildings, and their approval on the projects is normal, but it usually doesn’t happen this early in the process.

Westover said she hopes the early approval will help the school district.

“If we approve it, they go ahead, but if we don’t, they don’t spend a lot of money on design and then they’ll have more money to do that,” Westover said. “It’s a city building, and we do have to approve a design.”

But Sitka School District Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said he and school board President Lon Garrison met with Westover and Deputy Mayor Pete Esquiro, and that he left the meeting under the impression there would be a work session.

“Moving straight to a vote without a work session is a surprise,” Bradshaw said. “It was a real surprise that it was even brought up last night. We were under the impression that it wasn’t going to be brought up, that we were going to have a work session. It was a real surprise that it was even talked about last night after the meeting we had last week.”

Westover brought up the idea of a work session, but Assembly members noted that the work has been done, and that all that’s needed is an up-or-down vote.

Some Assembly members have concerns about the new design for Pacific High, a small alternative high school near the city’s downtown area. The plans right now call for a flat roof that can be used by students for gardens or meeting spaces. The architect working on the plans noted at an earlier Assembly meeting that drainage has been factored in to the plan.

The Pacific High remodel won funding support from voters in 2010. Two-thirds of the project will be funded by the state. Bradshaw says he understands there are new Assembly members since that vote. But he also said on Wednesday afternoon that he’s a little frustrated questions he thought were answered are coming back up again.

“We’ve gone through this design process. Any one of the Assembly members could have been at any one of the design meetings along the way and expressed their concerns. They chose not to do that,” Bradshaw said. “The design committee, which includes parents, teachers, students, administrators, board members, liked the idea of making that roof a usable space for the student and for the community.”

The item isn’t set for any specific meeting at the moment, but Bradshaw says he’s writing a letter to the Mayor asking that if a vote is to be held, it be done so soon, to give the district as much time as possible to adapt to any changes.

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