PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough has been waiting over a decade to install pile sleeves on the deep draft dock at Port Mackenzie, but nearly had to delay the installation even further. Assemblyman George McKee moved to postpone Ordinance 21-088, which accepted $7590,129 in Federal Economic Development Administration monies matched with $1,897,548 in Borough funding to design and install pile sleeves on the deep draft dock as well as a roll on, roll off cargo ramp at Port Mackenzie. McKee moved to postpone the vote on 21-088 until December, after the November 5 Borough election. McKee cited the previously approved business development marketing plan passed by the Assembly and not yet completed for Port Mackenzie.
“If it is not deemed to be viable then this body up here will be faced with the prospect of closing the port, so it’s important for us to in fact delay this and have a real look at it. Last but not least, grants don’t come without a little penalty on it, okay. This baby says we can’t close the port for 15 years if we accept this grant without paying back the grant, so I think we ought to kind of set this baby after the election, after the new Assembly folks wrestle around with it for them to get their teeth into and it is precipitous for us to accept it at this time in my view,” said McKee. “By the way, we have an additional $8.3 million dollars that we owe already on this baby to the Federal government, so what we could do, by accepting this we are changing the amount. We’re doubling it, there’s something crazy about that. Instead of decreasing it, we’re doubling the amount and I am not confident because I have six years on this Assembly and I want to tell you there’s nothing been viable about that port.”
Port Operations Manager Therese Dolan provided a staff report to the Assembly. The application to the EDA was approved on July 29 and provided 30 days for the borough to accept, which was then extended an additional 60 days with a deadline in the end of September to accept the nearly $7.6 million in funding for the nearly $9.5 million project to install pile sleeves at Port Mackenzie.
“It’s a project that we’ve been trying to accomplish and find the funding for for probably about the last 10 years,” said Dolan. “The original design of the deep draft dock included pile sleeves, but at the time they were cost engineered out. Ever since then I believe that the assumption was within a few years we would have enough money to put them on. That never happened and we’ve basically been looking for funding ever since.”
Assemblywoman Stephanie Nowers questioned the validity of McKee’s motion to postpone, questioning whether the project would be completed quickly. Public Works Director Terry Dolan reported that the Public Works department would execute the project. The Federal funding requires American steel to be used, which could potentially cause supply chain issues to delay the project. Dolan said that design work would be completed quickly and that the pile sleeves and cargo ramp could be finished by next summer. Mayor Vern Halter was combative towards McKee’s motion to postpone the ordinance.
“Please do not do this by the way. We’ve been trying to get the money,” said Halter. “Mr. McKee’s premise is two new brilliant assembly members in November and that’s the reason you put this off, when you’ve got two seasoned assembly members. Is that the premise? Wasn’t that the premise? Not that it’s totally ridiculous, but it’s totally ridiculous.”
Assemblyman Jesse Sumner noted that acceptance of the EDA funds would not be the first Federal funding used at Port Mackenzie, and would also not be the first funding that required the port to continue operations as a condition.
“I don’t think that that’s the direction that we’re probably going to be heading and this isn’t borough taxpayer money, this is Federal money that we’d be receiving as a grant ,” said Sumner. “Even if we were going to shut down the port, what that would look like is shutting down operations, shutting down the port department, but we would still be responsible for making sure the thing doesn’t rust into the ocean and I mean this would help with that, so that would be a liability of ours if that occurred and from my understanding eventually it would. So that’s something to consider on this, we would have to clean all that up and there’s not really an easy exit from this.”
McKee’s motion failed 1-4 with only McKee voting in support. The main motion on Ordinance 21-088 passed without opposition.