Posted: Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Ferry Fairweather returns to service

JUNEAU - The state's fast ferry Fairweather returns to service today, following a two-month hiatus.

The catamaran day boat will make a round-trip sailing from Juneau to Haines and Skagway today. The ship was taken out of service in mid-September for maintenance and to replace a malfunctioning engine. The state Department of Transportation also used the time to train the vessel's crew to operate the ship at night.

"We are very pleased that the Fairweather is returning to service a week earlier than we had expected back in September," said Tom Briggs, deputy commissioner for marine transportation, in a prepared statement. "The engine replacement and scheduled maintenance were accomplished without a hitch, which put us ahead of schedule."

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Ketchikan assembly OKs annexation plan

KETCHIKAN - The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly is going ahead with plans to expand the borough by more than 5,000 acres, including the communities of Hyder and Meyers Chuck.

The two towns, as well as other communities in Southeast, have opposed the borough's proposal. In a 4-3 vote this week, the Assembly decided to pursue the plan.

The state's Local Boundary Commission denied a similar Ketchikan plan to annex 5,524 square miles of land in 1999, primarily because Hyder and Meyers Chuck weren't included. The towns are inside the state's model borough boundaries for Ketchikan.

The borough expects to gain $1.37 million annually in federal payment-in-lieu of taxes funding and timber receipts by expanding. But Assembly member David Landis said the cost of providing services to Hyder and Meyers Chuck are unclear.

"There's a lost city of gold here that we're pursuing," he said. "We haven't really quantified the expenses."

The formula used to calculate federal funding might change in 2008 and result in less revenue, Landis said.

But former borough Assembly member Dick Coose, who pushed for expansion last year, said the National Association of Counties is working hard to assure that federal payments won't drop. Annexation will give Ketchikan a say on what happens on surrounding land, he said.

The Assembly directed borough staff to ask the commission to prepare the annexation petition on Ketchikan's behalf. The assembly also asked that the petition include a mechanism for sharing the new federal funds with Hyder and Meyers Chuck, and that the borough send representatives to meet with people in the two communities.

The population of Hyder is 77, according to 2003 state estimates. The population of Meyers Chuck is 18.

Feds approve disaster declaration

ANCHORAGE - The federal government has approved the state's request for a disaster declaration in parts of Western and Northwestern Alaska that were heavily damaged by October storms, Gov. Frank Murkowski's office announced Tuesday.

Murkowski's office also announced the governor expanded the original state disaster declaration to include more damaged areas.

The federal disaster declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide additional relief.

On Oct. 19, dozens of Nome businesses and homes were evacuated when a powerful storm flooded downtown streets, damaged roads and buildings and knocked loose huge propane tanks, spraying flammable gas. Twenty-foot waves poured over the city's protective seawall. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph were reported.

The storm swept across communities from Shishmaref to Shaktoolik, eroding bluffs and exposing septic tanks and water lines.

The federal assistance could cover up to 75 percent of damages estimated at around $5 million. Other federal funds would cover repairs to damaged roads estimated at more than $8 million, according to Murkowski's office.

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