Debt to the sea and the city

Fishermen's memorial organization slow to pay back city loan

Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009

The organization that built the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial on the waterfront downtown needs help paying down its debt to the city - so it's turning to the city.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The memorial was paid for in part with a $94,000 no-interest loan from the Juneau Assembly in 1996. Fees for having names added to the memorial are used to cover engraving, maintenance and to pay down the debt, though the community of families that have lost fishermen has been virtually exhausted since the memorial was built, board Vice President Bob Millard said.

Fewer and fewer requests have been coming in, prompting the memorial board to ask the Juneau Assembly to forgive a big chunk of its debt. According to a September e-mail from board President Bruce Weyhrauch to city officials, the board had $53,000 in its account and an outstanding debt of about $81,000 with the city. Weyhrauch and his board proposed paying down $43,000 of the debt, reserving $10,000 for future expenses and having the city forgive the remaining balance.

Millard defended the request, noting that the memorial's construction resulted in structural repairs to an unstable part of the city-owned seawalk and beautified part of the city.

"Unfortunately, our timing has been very poor on this," Millard said. "I think if we had approached the Assembly a couple of years ago, it would have sailed right through. Now, with the economy as it is ... "

The Assembly didn't take action on the request.

Meanwhile, the memorial board went to the Juneau Docks and Harbors Board with another proposal to take over management of the memorial. Docks and Harbors is also a city operation, but semi-independent of the Juneau Assembly, general city budget and core administration.

Weyhrauch wrote a two-sentence request in November to Port Director John Stone:

"The fisherman's memorial would like to become a committee of the harbor board, to insure (sic) long-term continuity and upkeep of the memorial. Please let us know if that is all right with you and the board."

Thursday night, the Docks and Harbors Board considered the request, but had too many unanswered questions about the specific obligations it was being asked to take on - and if that included the debt - to make a decision.

"I don't have any problem taking it over," said harbors board member Dick Knapp. "It seems to me though, we should make it a condition to a takeover ... that it's in writing that we don't take over the debt. It's theirs; they take care of it."

None of the memorial board members was at Thursday's harbors board meeting. The board referred the request to one of its committees to settle its outstanding questions.

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