Local News

Sitka Assembly debates legislative priorities

The Sitka Assembly met Monday night (8-11-14), to discuss the city’s legislative priorities — that is, which projects Sitka will ask the state to fund during the next legislative session.

It’s still early days in the process for legislative priorities. The state legislature won’t meet again until January 2015, and the city will refine its priorities throughout the fall.

So far, assembly members agreed that the Blue Lake hydro project is a top priority for state funding, along with the city’s road and harbor systems.

But assembly member Phyllis Hackett also raised the issue of a secondary source for drinking water. Hackett asked if the city should be seeking a back-up to its primary source, Blue Lake — especially after the water main break last October. In that incident, a contractor working on Sawmill Creek Road accidentally blasted a hole in the water main that connects Sitka to Blue Lake. The break left the city temporarily cut off from its only water supply.

Environmental Supervisor Mark Buggins said the accident highlighted a major vulnerability.

“We have a weak link in the system, that we have one pipeline that brings the water from Blue Lake to town,” he said. “And as we learned when the contractor blew that line up last year, that’s kind of a big weak point. ”

The city has identified high-quality groundwater in Starrigavan Valley, but estimates it would need more than $6-million in infrastructure to access that water.

The city is currently using Indian River as its back-up water supply, while work on the hydro project shuts off access to Blue Lake. But the city is relying on a $4-million rented water filtration system to bring the water up to standard, and that system is both too  expensive and its set-up too time-consuming, to serve as a secondary emergency water source.

Meanwhile, Assembly Member Ben Miyasato asked what it would take to get the state to improve ferry service to Sitka.

“We’re isolated enough as it is,” Miyasato said. “And to have ferry system service once a week in the winter, unless they have breakdowns…”

Government Relations Director Marlene Campbell said improved ferry service is always a priority, but it will take more than a request to the legislature to make it a reality.

“Your point is extremely well taken,” she said. “This is the one legislative priority that’s been around for twenty years and nothing has really changed other than the advent of the fast vehicle ferry has made a huge difference to Sitka service, in the summer.”

“So where does that leave us?” she said “High and dry unless we can get cooperation from our region.”

City staff will bring a second draft of the legislative priorities back to the assembly early in the fall.

You can find more coverage of the Sitka Assembly here.




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