Uchytil defends Statter Harbor project in letter

Assembly member Danner calls response defensive, bullying
The city bought a diesel powered hydraulic lift for the Auke Bay Loading Facility using a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant.

Port Director Carl Uchytil said Friday that the sharing of a boat lift at the Don D. Statter Harbor and the Auke Bay Loading Facility is both legal and sensible.


Uchytil issued a lengthy response to an email from Assembly member Ruth Danner that expressed concerns over the propriety of Docks and Harbors’ plans to share the boat lift between two sites.

Danner emailed Uchytil as well as City Manager Kim Kiefer and Mayor Bruce Botelho last Saturday to raise objections to the agency’s plans and ask that a $1.3 million funding request for the Statter Harbor haul-out project be withdrawn, calling it “a matter of principles.”

Chief among Danner’s concerns was Docks and Harbors’ plan to use a boat lift purchased with federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant money at both the ABLF and Statter Harbor, which she said could violate the terms of the grant.

The TIGER grant, extended in 2010 by the United States Department of Transportation, is for the ABLF project and stipulates that federal funds must not be “misappropriated or misdirected to any other account, need, project, line-item, or the like.”

In his letter to Danner, Uchytil noted that the terms do not explicitly forbid the use of equipment purchased by the grant at two different sites.

“Regarding the synergistic use of the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift at two facilities in Auke Bay, only you have raised the question of impropriety of operating it at Statter Harbor,” Uchytil wrote. “We have been transparent with MARAD (the United States Maritime Administration) in our vision to maximize the use of this valuable tool. It is not being shuttled to Statter under the cloak of darkness.”

Danner Saturday called the tone of the city’s response to her email “bullying at its worst.”

“The Port Director’s response to my question is over four pages long with 18 attachments,” Danner wrote Saturday in a response sent to the Empire. “All I asked for was a copy of the paragraph in the grant application that supports his statement that, ‘The vision for utilizing the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift has always been to operate and to serve the maritime requirements at both the Auke Bay Loading Facility and at Statter Harbor.’ I hope I can find it.”

“I have already said too much about the Auke Bay Loading Facility and the TIGER Grant for the good of the City,” Danner wrote. “I should have been more discreet. The Port Director is fulfilling his duty by using every possible argument to defend the City’s actions to date. There is money on the line and I certainly don’t want us to have to pay it back anymore than anyone else does. But how big a bazooka does it take to kill a mosquito?”

The Assembly Finance Committee voted July 2 to recommend that $1.3 million for the Statter Harbor haul-out project be funded through a temporary extension of the 1 percent special sales tax. The original request was for $2.3 million, but at Danner’s suggestion, it was cut down by $1 million.

The emails containing Uchytil’s letter and attached documents were addressed to Danner, but were also sent to the CBJ Assembly, Assembly Member Mary Becker and all members of Docks and Harbors’ board of directors, as well as to the Juneau Empire’s city government reporter.

Becker said she is “very pleased” with Uchytil’s letter.

“I think Docks and Harbors is very careful in what they do,” Becker said. “Carl has many years of experience in Coast Guard and working for the government, and I expected it to definitely be acceptable and above-board. So I’m very pleased with his letter. I think he handled it quite well.”

In his detailed response, Uchytil cited supporting documents, which he attached to another email message, throughout the letter. Among them was a June 29 memo from Port Engineer Gary Gillette to Kiefer in which he wrote that MARAD had been notified “that we have a nearby facility that could make use of the lift and they did not raise issues with that.”

Another document was in response to a separate concern Danner outlined in her email, that she had been told the boat lift equipment was “not designed to move at top speed for long distances.” Uchytil attached an email from a customer service technician at Bellingham, Wash.-based Krause Manufacturing, Inc., the parent company for the KMI Sea-Lift equipment currently housed at the ABLF.

“I do not recall our conversation with Ms. Danner, however she obviously misinterpreted our answers to her questions,” Mike Unger, the Krause employee, wrote. “The Sea Lift is more than capable of making the 1.8 mile trip between Auke Bay commercial facility and Statter Harbor.”

Uchytil also wrote in his letter to Danner that although he does not anticipate the lift being moved from the ABLF until at least 2015, he believes transporting it the distance to Statter Harbor and back would be feasible.

“Regarding your concerns about loss of Docks & Harbors personnel productivity in repositioning the boat lift, the 24 minutes to transit 1.8 miles at 4.5 mph, say a dozen times a year, is not unreasonable,” Uchytil wrote. “This would equate to approximately 15 work-hours per year, or the equivalent service level of what the Auke Bay Harbor personnel would provide on any one snow day.”

Docks and Harbors is constrained by “finite resources” in how it addresses agency needs, Uchytil contended.

“The vision for utilizing the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift has always been to operate and to serve the maritime requirements at both the Auke Bay Loading Facility and at Statter Harbor,” wrote Uchytil. “Docks & Harbors does not have resources for complete redundancy at each of our harbors. When facilities are in close proximity, in this case 1.8 miles, we need to complement our activities by conscientious sharing of auxiliary equipment.”

Danner’s original email also stated, “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.”

Uchytil disputed Danner’s characterization of the findings of an audit of the City and Borough of Juneau by the firm Elgee Rehfeld Mertz earlier this year. The audit identified two “deficiencies in internal control over (grant) compliance” for the ABLF project, one regarding expenditure reports and the other regarding procurement contracts, on the part of the CBJ, which Uchytil wrote “can only be described as administrative oversights” and had been remedied.

“In summary, the decision to restrict the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift to only the Auke Bay Loading Facility would be unwarranted and not the best use of limited resources,” Uchytil wrote near the end of the letter. “If the Assembly feels strongly about restricting the boat lift to only the Auke Bay Loading Facility then respectfully I will request reconsideration for additional funds for the Statter Harbor facility haul-out.”

Danner called Uchytil’s tone “unprofessional.”

“It is a fact that the TIGER Grant was not properly managed prior to Carl’s appointment. Reports were not filed timely or accurately,” Danner said in a written response. “That is why the auditor’s letter found that the City was lacking proper internal controls in the administration of this grant. It is no surprise that the contractor selling the Sea Lift is painting their product’s capabilities is a somewhat different light now that they fully understand the reason behind the question.”

“What is not, but should be a surprise is the tone is of the Port Director’s response,” Danner continued. “It is unprofessional, uncalled for, and demonstrates a sound understanding of ‘the best defense.’ Whether or not it is his intention, he has taken my words and twisted them to make me look like I am foolish or a trouble-maker who doesn’t understand the issues at hand.”

“I hope, as Mr. Uchytil says “The vision for utilizing the self-propelled hydraulic boat lift has always been to operate and to serve the maritime requirements at both the Auke Bay Loading Facility and at Statter Harbor,” Danner wrote later in her response. “And I hope we were clear about that in the grant application. If so, then my question has been answered and all is well … tempest over … thank you for answering my question. But every time I get too close to a sensitive topic and they make an ugly face and try to scare me into silence, I think, ‘Wow, I must really be onto something.’ I also think, if I stop now and go find a place to hide I will reinforce the same old message… that you shouldn’t question what the City is doing because they will hurt you if you dare. This is bullying at its worst and it makes me think that I have no moral choice BUT to push on.”

Danner has not yet announced whether she will run for office again.

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


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