The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole opted Monday not to take action on two ongoing issues: possible legislation restricting the use of fireworks by city residents, and a proposal to study expanding the Treadwell Ice Arena with a second sheet of ice.
Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge and Juneau Police Department Assistant Chief Page Decker addressed the committee on the fireworks issue, with City Manager Kim Kiefer prefacing their presentation by noting that city staff have been working on recommendations for action since hearing a complaint several months ago about fireworks use.
Kiefer and the chiefs said the opinion of staff is that the current laws, which prohibit the sale of fireworks in Juneau but are silent on personal possession and use of common fireworks, should not be changed.
“Our recommendation at this point is to keep it as it is,” said Kiefer.
Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker was of the same mind.
“I’m in favor of leaving it as it is, because people enjoy them, and we have limited resources to try to deal with this issue,” Wanamaker said. “There are far more pressing issues that require the use of our emergency services.”
Existing laws against reckless endangerment and disturbing the peace do apply to fireworks use, Decker said. He added that there have been relatively few recent fireworks-related injuries in Juneau, with just one “significant” injury in the past five years.
“It’s really a sound issue,” said Decker. “That’s what it is.”
He added that a separate law prohibiting the use of fireworks or restricting their use to certain times of the year would be an unwelcome strain on the JPD’s limited resources, calling it “almost unenforceable.”
Assemblymember Karen Crane suggested that by enacting legislation against fireworks usage, compliance would increase even without physical enforcement of the law.
“I understand the issue of it being difficult, if not impossible, to enforce at this point,” said Crane. “But the fact is … if people know the law is there, a great number of people will obey the law.”
Decker conceded that is true, but Etheridge said, “We have to set the expectations of the public. We don’t want to tell them that we have a fireworks law and we’re going to be enforcing this, and everybody that lights off a bottle rocket’s going to get a ticket, when it’s not realistic for that to happen. Where people start complaining the most is when we have unrealistic expectations and we can’t meet those.”
Crane and Assemblymember Jesse Kiehl spoke in favor of limiting the usage of fireworks to certain times of the year.
“The fact that we keep revisiting this issue every couple of years says to me, maybe we ought to do something about this issue at this point and see if we can’t at least satisfy some of the population,” Crane said.
Assemblymember Jerry Nankervis disagreed.
“I believe most of the population is perfectly happy with the way it is right now. There’s a small percentage that isn’t,” said Nankervis. “I’m not going to start legislating for the small percentage that isn’t over the large majority that is.”
Mayor Merrill Sanford acknowledged that some Juneau residents do face a serious problem with neighbors setting off fireworks and causing them distress, but said he thinks the existing laws are sufficient to deal with those instances.
“There’s an avenue to take care of this right now,” Sanford said. “People just need to go out there and work a little bit harder.”
On a motion by Assemblymember Johan Dybdahl, following staff’s recommendation, the committee tabled the issue.
The committee then heard from Eric Kueffner, president of the nonprofit Juneau Community Foundation, on the study the JCF has commissioned to look at the financial feasibility of operating a new ice arena in Dimond Park.
The Alaska State Legislature appropriated $650,000 to the JCF for design and planning work on a potential ice facility in Dimond Park earlier this year, but Kueffner has said he wants the CBJ to operate it if it is built, as the JCF has limited staff and capabilities (http://bit.ly/TcZADb).
The Sports Management Group, based in Berkeley, Calif., is conducting a study for $22,500 on behalf of the JCF to determine how much the facility would cost to operate.
Several Assemblymembers expressed some concern over the provisions of the study, with Nankervis pointing out that it does not look into what the cost of construction would be.
But Kueffner replied that the state, not the city or the JCF, will be footing the bill if a Dimond Park ice rink is built, saying, “We are not dealing with construction costs because we are not going to be funding the construction costs. If this is done, it will be done through state grants. And so really, in essence, it doesn’t matter what it costs. Obviously, we will try, if this goes forward, to get it done for as efficient an amount as possible, but the cost of doing it is really not the issue here. The cost of operating and maintaining a second sheet at Dimond Park is what’s at issue.”
Kiehl said that if energy-saving investments to reduce operating costs are being considered, he thinks the construction cost is relevant.
“In this concept, perhaps initial construction cost doesn’t matter to the CBJ taxpayer,” said Kiehl. “Once it becomes a CBJ foundation, and a CBJ-owned roof, and CBJ-owned compressors and everything else, it matters very, very much. The operation and maintenance costs become the taxpayers’.”
The committee also nixed the idea of spending $5,500 for a proposed feasibility study by the Sports Management Group into expanding Treadwell with a second sheet of ice, as several members of the community have suggested as an alternative option (http://bit.ly/TcFMRy), at least for now.
Crane said she thinks allocating city money for a study now would be “wasteful.”
“We’ve already been told by staff that we can’t afford this,” said Crane, referring to the operating costs for a second ice rink. “We know from going through the budget session last year that we cannot afford to take on the operation of another facility at this time.”
Only Kiehl spoke in favor of the study, saying that if it is not done, “It leaves us in a position down the road where I think we’ll be asked to take some action with half the info.”
On the Dimond Park study, Kueffner promised to share data with the city as soon as he receives it.
The committee also spent some time following up on its retreat last month (http://bit.ly/XXUdvo), working with McDowell Group senior consultant Scott Miller to outline goals for the coming year.
That segment of the meeting was marked by confusion over how the Assembly should proceed in crafting the goals, with Assemblymembers reiterating many of the priorities they named at the retreat.
With Miller’s help, that list was eventually winnowed down to a top five of “growing the economy,” “enhancing Juneau’s role as a state and regional capital,” housing, water supply and solid waste.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.