Ketchikan approves proposal to move ferry system out of Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough approved a proposal to the state on Monday to move the administrative offices of the Alaska Marine Highway System and about 40 jobs out of Juneau to Ketchikan.

But AMHS Director Tom Briggs already made a recommendation on the proposed move last week, according to the state Department of Transportation and the governor's office.

DOT spokesperson Nona Wilson said the recommendation is not being released to the public.

Wilson said Briggs' recommendation, sent to Gov. Frank Murkowski and DOT Commissioner Mike Barton, was a preliminary recommendation based on an earlier proposal by Ketchikan city officials. Wilson said she could not release any information about when the recommendation was sent or what it said.

Briggs did not respond to requests for an interview with the Empire.

The proposal passed Monday in Ketchikan would lease 6,200 square feet of office space in the largely vacant Ketchikan Pulp Co. administration building to the state for AMHS headquarters.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough would cover up to $420,000 of the cost of the move by offering reduced rent for a time.

The state would pay $1.10 per square foot per month for the first two years and 55 cents per square foot thereafter until the cost to move the government agency is paid. After that the state would pay about $1.60 per square foot.

Ketchikan Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen said he received the $420,000 estimate from DOT but would not say from whom.

Borough officials are trying to keep the discussion from becoming public in the newspapers, Brandt-Erichsen said. He said the building renovations could be completed as early as July 1.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough also would pay up to $500,000 for roof repairs and making the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

DOT has released little information about the proposed move. Lawmakers and city officials in Juneau say they largely have been left out of the loop.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said he spoke with DOT officials in early November and was told that the department was conducting an internal review of the proposed move.

"I am concerned that moving managers and engineers away from the commissioner and other leadership in the department will hamper efforts to improve the system while adding operating costs," Botelho said in a letter to Murkowski.

"The impact of this move to individual families and to the community of Juneau is also a concern to me. At this point it is difficult to envision any benefits from moving the AMHS headquarters that would outweigh the additional cost and other negative impacts to the operation of the Alaska Marine Highway System."

On Tuesday, Botelho said there should be a public hearing on the pros and cons of the move.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he also has been given little information about the proposed move. He said although Ketchikan proposes covering the up-front costs of the move it probably does not consider the cost of finding new employees to replace those who decide to leave their positions with the state.

He also questioned why the state would spend money on a new facility when it will have to continue paying for the current one in Juneau.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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