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Danner: Reconsider Statter Harbor funding request

Posted: July 11, 2012 - 12:01am

Assembly Member Ruth Danner sent an email to several members of the City and Borough of Juneau government Saturday calling on Docks and Harbors to withdraw a request for the Don D. Statter Harbor haul-out project to receive funding from a 1 percent special sales tax extension.

In the email, Danner wrote that she is concerned the transportation of heavy equipment for the haul-out could violate the terms of a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant worth more than $3.6 million.

“I’m sure the former Port Director (John Stone) must have had a vision for what he was doing when he built (the Auke Bay Loading Facility), but he definitely gave me the impression that his intention was to move the lift to Statter as soon as he could get away with it under the grant terms,” wrote Danner. “If we are already in trouble for our mismanagement of this Tiger Grant, as was reported in this year’s audit, and we continue to knowingly play fast and loose and get caught, we will endanger our ability to benefit from future grants and might even have to pay back federal funds we have received.”

The audit earlier this year by Elgee Rehfeld Mertz identified two “deficiencies in internal control over (grant) compliance” unrelated to the Statter Harbor controversy.

The terms of the TIGER grant, which was extended in 2010 by the United States Department of Transportation to support the Auke Bay facility, do not expressly stipulate that equipment purchased with grant money must exclusively be used at the ABLF. They do state, however, “The Grantee shall ensure that the funds provided by the Government are not misappropriated or misdirected to any other account, need, project, line-item, or the like.”

Port Director Carl Uchytil said he understands that requirement to mean that the funds cannot be used for another purpose — and they were used, he noted, to purchase a hydraulic boat lift.

“We were able to secure this grant to procure this hydraulic boat lift at that site, but there’s no stipulation that we can’t use it at … Statter Harbor,” said Uchytil.

But Danner also suggested in her email that driving the equipment between the ABLF and Statter Harbor would be impractical.

“This piece of equipment moves at 4.5 mph top speed and will completely block traffic for at least 30 minutes in one direction IF there are no problems,” Danner wrote of the new boat lift, which is currently at the ABLF. She continued, “It truly makes no sense to move this machine back and forth when there are hundreds of boats at Statter Harbor and so far as I know NONE, really, at the (ABLF).”

In order to get around the traffic problem, Uchytil suggested, the boat lift could be moved at times when few people would be on the road.

“We could do that on a monthly basis if we needed it in one facility or another,” Uchytil said. “It’s just a matter of, on those few times a year … having escort vehicles so it wouldn’t tie up traffic. … We would do it after hours so it would cause the least amount of impact to the public.”

Danner’s email was sent to Uchytil, City Manager Kim Kiefer and Mayor Bruce Botelho, though she addressed Uchytil by name in the email’s body.

“I am sorry to bring this problem to you, Carl,” Danner added near the end of the email. “I know it was not of your own making and that you are trying to do the best you can with the situation you have inherited.”

The Statter Harbor Master Plan was adopted in 2005. Uchytil, who succeeded Stone, was hired as port director in 2011.

Botelho said that he believes Danner raised “serious questions” in her email and that he is “anxiously awaiting” Uchytil’s response.

“I suspect that there is a degree in any institution where one feels obligated to respect predecessors’ decisions,” said Botelho. “But at the same time, if there are serious questions, those questions have to be addressed. And I trust that Mr. Uchytil has the integrity to speak out if he believes there is a problem.”

Uchytil said he expects to have a response to Danner’s email by the end of the day Friday, after Port Engineer Gary Gillette returns from leave. He is standing by the Statter Harbor project, he said.

“I’m confident that our vision for operating the boat lift will meet the requirements of the TIGER grant, and it will meet the recommendations of the manufacturer, and it will meet the needs of the maritime public,” Uchytil said.

This is not the first time Danner has suggested denying funding for the Statter Harbor haul-out project. At Assembly Finance Committee meetings on June 28 and July 2 to discuss allocations from the proposed 1 percent sales tax extension and infrastructure bond issue, she expressed concerns with the project. At her suggestion, $1 million was cut from the original $2.3 million request for Statter Harbor funding, but she could not obtain consensus to deny the request outright.

Botelho said that with the new information Danner brought up, depending on how Docks and Harbors responds, “It could become a topic of discussion by the Assembly.”

If the Assembly determines that it needs to take action, though, it would only have about one month to act. An ordinance to put the 1 percent sales tax extension and bond issue on the October ballot will likely be introduced next Monday, Botelho said, and such an ordinance must be adopted by next month in order for those items to make the ballot.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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