December 5, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 49

Wrangell moves toward SEAPA operation at Tyee

WRANGELL — The borough assembly voted 5-0 Tuesday night on a draft resolution which — if approved next week — could begin the process of putting Tyee Lake operations in the hands of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

Assembly members instructed Borough manager Jeff Jabusch to look through and fine-tune the resolution, which would empower him to enter into negotiations on a formal written offer for the SEAPA transfer “which essentially accepts the terms of the August 19, 2013 memo from the SEAPA CEO to the TBPA President,” the measure reads.

The draft resolution lays out conditions for the transfer, which include: a two-year period wherein Thomas Bay Power Authority employees would not be terminated, TBPA employees will not receive reduced benefits under SEAPA management, TBPA expenses for the fiscal year 2014 will be paid by SEAPA (or half by Petersburg), the Thomas Bay Power Authority commission be placed on “inactive status” but not dissolved, that a Wrangell borough assembly member be appointed at some point to the SEAPA board of directors, that digital audio recordings of future SEAPA Board meetings are kept for two years, and an extension for a divestiture analysis deadline until Dec. 31, 2019.

Another part of the draft resolution stipulates that any written offer negotiated by Jabusch, Petersburg, Wrangell and TBPA be approved by the governing bodies of each group.

The draft resolution’s author, Assembly member Julie Decker, said the draft was the result of an extensive interview process with members of the community on the future of the TBPA, and a review of SEAPA procedures, which she said offered adequate safeguards against domination. Bond issuance and other major decisions require more stringent voting requirements than a simple majority, Decker said.

“Some require a super-majority,” she said. “Some require unanimous, some require simple majority. I feel comfortable with the level of protection that even a community even the size of Wrangell — who has only one to two board members depending on the year — that the major decisions still need either a super majority or a unanimous vote. Even a little community like Wrangell can block something if it’s majorly not in our interest.”

The operation of a Tyee Lake could create an unmanageable liability, said assembly member Daniel Blake.

“I think the best option is to go ahead and draft a resolution that consider that we get a formal proposal from SEAPA and put Thomas Bay power into inactive status,” he said, prior to Decker’s motion being introduced. “The other option would be to take over Tyee ourselves. As a small community, if there’s ever a major incident out there, whether it be fire or earthquake or whatever, we would not be able to handle that ourselves.”

SEAPA management of the facility could also give Wrangell some benefits, Blake added.

“It (SEAPA) gives us a much larger voice at the state level when we seek grant assistance to do anything … than when we’re talking about Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell all together rather than when we’re just talking about Wrangell by ourselves,” he said.

SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson was on hand to answer questions, but essentially said none of the special caveats or conditions would pose a problem for his organization.

The language in the resolution may be likely to change between now and then. Assembly member Pamella McCloskey said many board members were “pushed to the max,” and may not have time to commit to membership on the SEAPA board, and said she favored creating that condition as a recommendation instead of a requirement. The language of another condition used the phrase “held harmless,” which Acteson objected to.

The belief among elected and appointed officials at the city level is that Petersburg officials may be able to step up and help with enough money to see TBPA through the end of the year if negotiations on SEAPA management — which the Petersburg borough unanimously endorsed Sept. 27 — were underway.

“In some ways it’s a compromise,” Decker said. “They (Petersburg officials) made it very clear they wanted to move this direction. They took a strategic move because they didn’t want it (TBPA) to continue. Yeah, in some ways it (the motion) is a compromise, but it’s even going beyond what Petersburg did, though, to sort of fix the situation for the better. That’s what I hope.”

Acteson’s Aug. 19 memo had already addressed many – though not all – of the points mentioned in discussion Tuesday night. The assembly’s action was positive, he said.

“I’m happy with the decision that they made, that put some thoughtful consideration to the issue and dug deep,” he said. “I think there’s some financial benefit to the ratepayers by SEAPA operating. Obviously that’s my preference because our job is to look out for the interests of the rate payers.”

Wrangell Light and Power Superintendent Clay Hammer agreed.

“I felt that Julie (Decker) did a really good job on this, that she really researched things through really well, I think that she covered the bases as well as anybody could,” he said. “I think what we have on the table now is a good viable motion and I look forward to what the assembly does with it next week.”

In other business, the assembly altered the job description for the Finance Director to make an accounting degree the primary requirement, with other past requirements moved to “preferred but not required.”

The assembly also unanimously deferred action on adding the position of borough manager to the Public Employees Retirement System, which in turn deferred an executive session to approve Jabusch’s contract.

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