Assembly discusses future of Thomas Bay Power Authority
WRANGELL — The future of the Thomas Bay Power Authority and the commission governing it took center stage at Tuesday’s borough assembly meeting.
The heart of the matter focused on the role the Thomas Bay Power Commission will play in future negotiations about the future of the Tyee Lake electric plant. James Stough, the sitting president of the Thomas Bay Power Commission issued the cease-and-decist letter April 4 on TBPA letterhead in his authority as TBPC president without notifying other members of the commission of the letter in advance. He claims the borough assembly is ignoring ordinances which vest the commission with the sole power to negotiate on behalf of the Thomas Bay Power Authority.
Assembly member Julie Decker opposed him in an at-times terse debate during a borough assembly discussion item. Decker authored a draft resolution presented to the Assembly Dec. 3 and enacted Dec. 10 empowering borough manager Jeff Jabusch and Petersburg manager Stephen Giesbrecht to negotiate with SEAPA over the future of Tyee Lake, though Jabusch has said that no negotiations have yet taken place.
Decker was joined by Assembly member Daniel Blake, both of whom have expressed their opposition to Stough’s letter. Bob Maxand, who participated in the persons to be heard section of the meeting, questioned whether Stough had the authority to do that based on a letter Stough sent, while a member of the commission questioned the ability of the TBPC president to negotiate without authority from the full commission.
Maxand commended the assembly for trying to encourage a SEAPA operations at Tyee Lake.
“My understanding, talking with some of the commissioners, they knew nothing of this letter,” he said, and read an excerpt from the letter.
“All I’m saying is: who voted on the commission to give you power to write that letter?” he said. “I believe it’s wrong and a slam to the council and both committees and I think you should be taken from the seat.”
The letter Maxand refers to is one of four questions Stough asked the assembly to submit to the borough lawyer.
“How can the TBPA Commission President negotiate for the Commission without explicit permission from the Commission i.e. a motion to do so?”
The questions were directed toward actions conducted by the previous president, Stough said.
That action seemed to represent a double standard, Decker said.
“There’s a number of issues here, Assembly Member Stough,” she said. “I think what Mr. Maxand raised is an issue. When you wrote those four questions to be submitted to the attorney, in one of them, you were questioning the right of the president of the Thomas Bay Power Commission to negotiate, and then now that you’re president you’re directing everyone to negotiate with you, even though the commission didn’t know you were writing the letter on your behalf.”
The letter was primarily intended to clarify existing ordinances, Stough said.
“The letter I wrote was in clarification of the rules that are laid down at this point,” he said. “All I did was request, at the bottom of the letter, if you read it, was that any of the communications or any of that stuff that comes forward needs to go to the Thomas Bay Power Commission so they can act upon it.”
Both borough assemblies have ceded the power to negotiate to the commission, Stough said.
“It lies with them (the commission),” he said. “It doesn’t lie with them, it lies with the commission.”
The letter was also intended to drive communications between Thomas Bay and SEAPA, Stough said.
“There’s been no communications from either Wrangell, Petersburg, or SEAPA to Thomas Bay,” he said.
Using the commission as the primary negotiating body could mean a worse outcome for Thomas Bay Power Employees, Decker said.
“I think we have two things,” she said. “First, I think as a body here we need to talk about who has the power to direct the city attorney. Personally, I believe it needs to be by a majority vote of this assembly, that’s my personal view. Secondly, James, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand where you’re coming from where this issue with everything’s gotta be negotiated through you or through the commission. I’ve tried to understand it from your point of view what you’re getting at. One thing that finally occurred to me is that you’re not seeing it the way I see it. I see that SEAPA is not beholden to Thomas Bay. They are beholden to the city of Wrangell and Petersburg. We are their members and we have a majority vote on their board right now, and in fact that’s where our negotiating power lies. I believe that this group has been trying to negotiate on behalf of Thomas Bay Power Authority employees, for their benefit, and we have a much stronger position and ability to do that than Thomas Bay Power Commission. SEAPA is not required to work with Thomas Bay, not legally or anything else. They have a contract and they can cancel it with one year’s notice. I feel like what you’re doing is making that weaker, and that would be a worse deal for the employees, that is my personal opinion.”
Decker was trying to ignore the ordinances, Stough said.
“Your opinion is that you want to bypass the ordinances and stuff that are in place,” he said.
“That’s not true,” Decker said.
She cited ordinance 3.40.060, which begins:
“On approval by resolution of the borough assembly, the commission may enter into an agreement as an agent of the borough to maintain and operate Lake Tyee hydroelectric project owned by the state.”
The code allows the assembly to use a resolution to negotiate an end to the TBPA operations at Tyee Lake, Decker said.
The essential problem is that Stough cites an earlier section of the same code that lists the Thomas Bay Power commission duties, in part as:
“A. Generally, to have full and complete supervision, management and control of the study, design, construction, maintenance, operation and improvement of the hydroelectric project known as the ‘Lake Tyee Hydroelectric Project,’ together with any other hydroelectric project proposed by the commission within the area of Petersburg/Wrangell or such area which can reasonably and feasibly serve the hydroelectric power needs of the Petersburg and Wrangell communities.”
That section vests the Commission with sole power to negotiate the end of the TBPA, Stough said.
Other sections require monthly meetings and budget reporting. The commission had no April meeting. A meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 9.
The city attorney will make the final determination about whether the power rests with the assembly or the commission. Jabusch told the assembly that the city attorney is expect to make the determination " in the near future."
The assembly voted 6-0 to instruct the borough manager to send a letter to the commission asking for their standing on the future of operations at Tyee Lake.
In other business, the assembly discussed possibly hiring a part-time ordinance enforcement officer to deal with dog feces and loose dogs around town, as well as parking and other issues.