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Danner, Docks & Harbors trade harsh words over weekend

Posted: July 17, 2012 - 12:03am

Even as the substance of the dispute over whether a hydraulic boat lift can be used at two Auke Bay sites faded somewhat as an issue, the war of words between Assembly member Ruth Danner and Juneau Docks and Harbors sharpened over the weekend.

In an email sent to Port Director Carl Uchytil Sunday, Danner accused him of a “personal attack” in his letter, sent Friday, responding to her concerns over the agency’s plans to share a hydraulic boat lift between the Auke Bay Loading Facility and the Don D. Statter Harbor. She said she had “no alternative (but) to defend myself” in the Juneau Empire.

The recent feud between Danner and Docks and Harbors started July 7, when Danner sent an email to Uchytil asking him to withdraw a $1.3 million funding request for the planned Statter Harbor haul-out. She wrote that she was concerned transporting the boat lift to and from the harbor several times a year could create an inconvenience, place wear on the equipment and even violate the terms of a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that was used to purchase the lift.

“It is entirely possible that I am, somehow, mistaken,” Danner wrote. “If so, and you can get approval from our granting source to move the lift to Statter Harbor then I will gladly stand down and support the plan before us. In the absence of such reassurances, however, I highly recommend that you rethink this plan.”

Uchytil responded to that email with a lengthy letter, accompanied by a set of supporting documents, last Friday in which he wrote that the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) had been informed of Docks and Harbors’ desire to use the equipment at Statter Harbor and it had not raised any objections.

“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 to Danner. “The Port Engineer has stated with no ambiguity, on record, that MARAD has had no issues with our intended use of this vehicle. … The approving grant has no stipulations on the exclusive use of the hydraulic boat lift.”

Uchytil also produced an email from a customer service technician at Bellingham, Wash.-based Krause Manufacturing, Inc., which sells the Sea-Lift equipment that was purchased with TIGER grant money, asserting that the lift is “more than capable” of traveling the 1.8-mile distance between the ABLF and Statter Harbor.

Danner emailed the Juneau Empire Saturday, calling Uchytil’s tone “unprofessional” and accusing the city of “bullying at its worst.” She defended her inquiry, writing, “There is money on the line and I certainly don’t want us to have to pay it back anymore than anyone else does. … For the record, I DID ask quietly and I did not receive the assurances necessary to satisfy the concerns of my constituents.”

In her email to Uchytil Sunday, Danner wrote that she wanted to “apologize” to him for “this whole business.”

“My actions pushed you into a poorly thought out response and I’m afraid my reply to that is not going to help you recover gracefully,” Danner wrote. “I DO want you to recover as gracefully and as quickly as possible and if there is anything I can do to help facilitate that, I am willing to consider any idea.”

That email drew the ire of Kevin Jardell, chairman of Docks and Harbors’ board of directors. He replied to Danner Sunday, calling her email “offensive and self serving.”

Jardell continued, “There was no personal attack whatsoever in the letter responding to your very serious allegations. I vetted the letter as well as others and like usual thought the letter provided a very thorough answer to your uninformed and unsubstantiated accusations.”

The email from Jardell, who is on vacation, criticized what he called Danner’s “lack of due diligence in seeking answers” and claimed the Assembly member’s suggestion that Docks and Harbors withdraw its funding request “jeopardized future services for Juneau citizens.”

“I certainly recognize your right to go to the Empire with your questions before coming to the board or waiting for a response and we are as open to the press as possible even having a reporter at most meetings,” Jardell added. “However, claiming you had to defend yourself in the (Sunday) email … is a sorry excuse. If you make unsubstantiated accusations publicly you should expect a thorough response to ensure the public has confidence in their government.”

In a brief reply to Jardell Sunday night, Danner suggested they could “agree to disagree.”

Jardell said Monday that he objected to what he called “accusations” in Danner’s emails, as well as to the way in which she offered her apology to Uchytil, not to her raising questions about the project.

“She has every right to do anything she wants,” said Jardell. “I wish she had chosen a different path, but it’s up to her to do that.”

Danner said Monday evening that she has not finished reviewing Uchytil’s full response from Friday, but remarked that she has “a certain level of confidence” in the recommendation of CBJ staff as to how to proceed, saying, “If they’ve looked at it carefully, and they still think it’s okay, it must be okay.”

But Danner added, “I would feel so much better if they would just have their grant person say, write, ‘We approve the use of this piece of equipment at these two locations.’”

Danner also said she does not desire a “public brawl” over the issue, but remarked, “I’m not terribly sorry that this conversation is being had in the public forum, because when I said the very same things in the Finance Committee, I didn’t get any response.”

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

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