Danner backs off Docks and Harbors criticism

Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010

Ruth Danner told her fellow Assembly members in April she would like to re-examine the ordinance giving the Docks and Harbors board its authority, which she said it seemed to have been exceeding.

The request was prompted by a letter board chairman Jim Preston had sent to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting the EPA's decision against placing Douglas Harbor spoils in the Gastineau Channel. Preston had copied Juneau's state and federal legislators. The request was also prompted by an easement the board had requested for a project bordering Alaska Glacier Seafoods in Auke Bay, and by the fact that "a number of people" had come to her raising concerns about the board, Danner said.

After attending several Docks and Harbors board meetings and meeting more than once with Port Director John Stone and Preston, Danner said in an interview Thursday that she'd like to table that request in favor of a joint meeting between the Assembly and the board. While she said she would have preferred some past decisions have been made differently, she also says she was "dead wrong" not to call Preston prior to publicly raising concerns about the letter.

"I can't say I think we need to (discuss the ordinance) but I can't say I think we don't, either. I personally don't have any current open issues - but that doesn't negate at all the questions other people have asked ... me," she said.

"I made the mistake as the new kid of taking them (those critical of the board) all at their word, saying Docks and Harbors is a mess," she said. "I'm not one to grumble at people behind their backs. If there's a problem, we should address it. I want to fix it."

Now, however, she said she sees most perceived problems as "a communications problem."

"I don't know of anything at this point at all that ... they're doing wrong," she said. "I think they're 85 percent brilliant. Like a lot of other departments or divisions, they are the expert in their field and so maybe aren't as good at communicating with the public up front."

Preston said communicating with those who'd asked to be kept informed was his intention in the letter, and the copies, that Danner initially questioned.

He also said the board always welcomes joint meetings and opportunities to discuss its projects, and that they may need a joint meeting with the Assembly soon anyway to discuss the old Douglas Harbor. Should the city ultimately be denied permission to dump spoil from the harbor's dredging in the channel, it needs to come up with another course of action.

He said one option is to dispose of the spoil in the Lower 48, but that would cost between $3.5 million and $10 million beyond what is already allocated for the spoil - just under $1 million - and would likely require a voter-approved bond.

Another option would be to dismantle the old Douglas Harbor.

"Nobody wants that to happen, but if it has to happen, we want to have a contingency plan in place so that we're ready for it," he said.

Committee of the Whole chairman and Deputy Mayor Randy Wanamaker said Danner's initial request is just one of many waiting for discussion in the committee.

Danner said she plans to continue to attend the board's meetings in an effort to stay informed.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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