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Ketchikan seeks float house removals

Posted: September 21, 2012 - 12:05am
This undated photo provided by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough shows one of two float houses owned by Robert Holston that are moored on borough tidelands south of the former Seley sawmill in Ketchikan, Alaska. The borough contends that the two float houses are in danger of disintegrating and strewing wood in waterways and has sued Holston to have them removed. (AP Photo/Ketchikan Gateway Borough)
This undated photo provided by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough shows one of two float houses owned by Robert Holston that are moored on borough tidelands south of the former Seley sawmill in Ketchikan, Alaska. The borough contends that the two float houses are in danger of disintegrating and strewing wood in waterways and has sued Holston to have them removed. (AP Photo/Ketchikan Gateway Borough)

KETCHIKAN — Two migrating houses are causing trouble for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

The float houses — known as “Loggerville,” the floating village previously moored at Ward Cove and owned by Robert Holston — were moved from the cove to the tidelands at the airport reserve on Gravina Island, across the channel from Peninsula Point.

The houses are now moored at pilings south of the former Seley sawmill and are grounding, drying and refloating with the tides, which the borough argues is causing serious damage to the structures.

According to the borough, Holston, who owns a local tour business, contacted Ketchikan International Airport Manager Mike Carney on July 13 to ask permission to moor the houses at the pilings.

“He did contact the borough and permission was denied,” Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst told the Ketchikan Daily News (http://bit.ly/SaEmXF). “Without further contact, he simply moved (the houses) over there anyway.”

Damage to the houses might be problematic for Ketchikan, according to Bockhorst, because of a “significant and growing risk” that the houses will disintegrate and strew wood throughout the waterways.

“On Sunday,” Bockhorst said, “winds were so heavy that an Alaska Airlines flight bypassed Ketchikan and went straight to Sitka. As we enter October, our concern escalates exponentially.”

Holston, who didn’t return several Daily News telephone calls seeking comment, made an appearance at Monday’s Borough Assembly meeting to apologize for trespassing on borough-managed property and to suggest a lease agreement with the borough.

Contrary to the citations issued by the borough, Holston said, the houses weren’t abandoned, derelict or nuisances because he has a long record of punctually paying for his mooring leases.

Holston said at Monday’s meeting that he moved the houses from Ward Cove during “favorable wind and weather conditions,” and had “examined all other options and all other locations.”

“I do not see me vacating your lands in the immediate future,” he said.

Holston said he would offer to lease the pilings at five times the market value of the space, which he said he would need for approximately 18 months.

According to Holston, the pilings originally were placed there to support the logging industry and have been left vacant since its demise in Ketchikan.

“I do know the airport manager wants everything gone from there,” he said. “I’m just asking for a chance.”

A chance from the borough isn’t likely.

The Assembly didn’t jump on the idea of a lease, and didn’t respond positively to his apology — Assembly Member Alan Bailey called it “hollow and without merit.”

Members later expressed interest to notify all interested agencies, including the Coast Guard and the Department of Environmental Conservation, and carry on with the borough’s civil suit against Holston.

The suit, filed by Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen in the Ketchikan District Court on Tuesday, argues that Holston is trespassing by leaving the houses at the airport reserve against the will of the borough and seeks to have the property ejected from the area.

The borough is also seeking punitive damages and to recover costs and attorney fees against Holston.

Bockhorst said it wasn’t immediately clear how much in damages and fees the borough will seek from Holston.

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