Petersburg Pilot -

TBPA's fate remains unclear after joint work session

 


In a joint work session Tuesday aimed at discussing the future of Thomas Bay Power Authority, the dialogue between Petersburg and Wrangell borough assembly members missed the mark.

The joint meeting was sparked after the Petersburg assembly voted not to fund its share of a portion of the TBPA budget labeled non-net billable — funding the two municipalities have traditionally split that goes towards administrative costs of TBPA’s commission. The lack of funding left Wrangell shelling out its $55,000 share, enough to keep the commission running for about six months.

Southeast Alaska Power Authority owns the Tyee hydroelectric plant and pays for TBPA operations and maintenance. TBPA was originally created to develop hydro projects in the area but currently acts as an operations and maintenance contractor for Tyee. SEAPA has offered to absorb TBPA and take control of operations.

A concern Wrangell assembly member James Stough shared during the joint session was the current lack of control he feels communities have over their energy concerns. Mayors from each municipality elect a representative to sit on the SEAPA board. But Stough said those members then become “indoctrinated” by SEAPA.

“And our communities cannot get rid of that representatives,” Stough said.

As Stough was making his point, Wrangell Mayor David Jack attempted to change the course of the conversation.

“No this discussion should be part of the deal,” Stough said.

“No let’s cut this short,” Jack said. “They gotta get back to Petersburg.”

But Petersburg assembly member John Hoag came to Stough’s defense.

“No we’re here because we have to have this dialogue,” Hoag said. “If we have to go back and miss high tide so be it.”

Hoag’s comments were met with applause from the public audience.

Jack then called for a ten-minute break.

The only other discussion that seemed to gain any traction occurred earlier in the meeting but was also redirected by Jack. Hoag questioned Stough as to why he thought their SEAPA representatives lacked power and authority and how leaving Thomas Bay in place would help that. SEAPA, with one year’s notice, could end its contract with TBPA.

“So I don’t understand how we gain anything or lose anything by this issue,” Hoag said. “Help me out?”

The question was met with silence. Jack then advised they continue to hear out SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson.

Acteson presented the assemblies with possible solutions for the current Tyee agreement that provided more fruitful discussion. One idea was to absorb existing TBPA employees who are currently in the Alaska Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS. Two TBPA positions have unfunded liabilities totaling more than $750,000. If Thomas Bay’s contract were to be terminated, it would be responsible for those payments. Acteson proposed that SEAPA pay a one-time lump sum to cover those costs and transfer current Thomas Bay employees into SEAPA’s union pension plan. Four other positions are on a different PERS plan and there is no unfunded liability for them.

“While we have everybody in the same room, we’re not talking about eliminating any employees and we’re not talking about losing any jobs,” Acteson said.

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen asked if rates would be affected should SEAPA take over Thomas Bay.

“It will not affect rates,” Acteson said.

Jensen said he thought SEAPA’s offer was good. Hoag agreed and added officials ought to negotiate quickly with SEAPA and let them take over borough costs.

Wrangell Interim Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch brought up the unfunded portion of the net-billable budget but no clear answers were provided. The Petersburg Borough seems to have pounded the gavel on that issue last spring with its decision not to fund non-net billable sending the message that SEAPA should take over funding. The borough will likely vote during its next assembly meeting whether or not to accept SEAPA’s offer.

SEAPA has also offered to allow TBPA to remain in the community charters and be re-activated “should a need arise.”

 

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