Local News

Assembly discusses negotiating power for Tyee

The regular meeting of the borough assembly was Tuesday, April 22. The assembly discussed the role of Thomas Bay in the transfer of the Tyee Lake project.

This discussion has been going on for a long time. And, it’s been a point of controversy for a long time.

Before the last meeting, assembly member James Stough sent a letter to Southeast Alaska Power Agency board president Robert Sivertsen.

Writing as the Thomas Bay Power Commission president, he called on the assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg to cease and desist negotiations with SEAPA until Thomas Bay could play a more active role.

The rest of the commission did not take part in writing the letter.

That led in part to this meeting’s heated discussion, which began long before it came up on the agenda.

Community member Bob Maxand spoke during the public comment period. He took issue with Stough writing the letter without the consent of the entire commission.

“All I’m saying is, who voted on that commission to give you permission to write that letter. You had to have the full commission’s support,” said Maxand.

“Why would I have to have the full commission’s support to write a letter that states the rules?” said Stough.

Decker called point of order: “Mayor, may I call a point of order, please? It’s the public comment period. We can discuss it under the agenda.”

“Anyway, I believe that it was wrong and it’s a slander to council of both communities and I think you should be taken from the seat. Thank you,” said Maxand.

The borough assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg are in discussion with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, or SEAPA, over the Tyee Lake Hydroelectric Project.

Thomas Bay currently holds the operations and maintenance contract for Tyee. It’s contracted by SEAPA to perform the O&M duties.

Bob Maxand’s comments bring up the point that James Stough plays two roles. On one hand, he’s an assembly member. On the other, he is the president of the Thomas Bay Power Commission.

These roles came into play as part of the larger issues at the meeting.

Assembly member Julie Decker, who called the point of order, spoke again when TBPA came up on the agenda.

One of the issues she brought up was who has the power to direct SEAPA and the borough attorney.

She addressed both Stough’s letter to SEAPA and his questions for the borough attorney on which groups should be negotiating the transfer of Tyee.

“Your letters to SEAPA board chair and the Wrangell attorney do make direction. First of all, you said cease and desist and negotiate with me instead. You also, as Thomas Bay Power Commission president, you tried to direct the city of Wrangell attorney…” said Decker.

Stough responded: “No I didn’t.”

Decker responded: “That’s exactly what the letter says.”

“It’s the same letter I sent to go look at what was asked to the attorney. All I was doing was notifying them,” said Stough.

Decker said, in her personal opinion, a direction should come from a consensus of the body in question.

Stough maintained that he didn’t need a consensus to ask for clarification of the attorney’s answers nor did he need it to address Thomas Bay’s position with SEAPA.

“We had a list of questions and Bob presented part of it tonight. That was my original question, to get some of the answers so we are clear about where the power lies. The ordinances as we read them are set up to do that. You’re telling me that we move forward with Petersburg. But you were trying to get rid of the Thomas Bay Power Commission but that’s part of the doggone city charter.

You can’t do that unless it goes in front of the people. Then you have an ordinance that formed them to give them the power to negotiate and do contracts and the rest of that. That’s what we did. Those contracts with SEAPA are with that. I agree with you. I’m not disagreeing with you on a lot of stuff. SEAPA has the right to tell Thomas Bay from this point out, we’re not going to use you and they need to negotiate. What’s so hard about that?” said Stough.

Stough says that as the O&M contract holder, Thomas Bay should be the body negotiating the transfer.

But, Decker says that power is held by the boroughs of Wrangell and Petersburg, as the entities that created Thomas Bay.

She also said that as the two communities hold seats on the SEAPA board, she thinks they are in a stronger position to negotiate than Thomas Bay.

She cited Wrangell city ordinance 3.40.060:

“Operation and maintenance of Lake Tyee Hydroelectric Project: On approval by resolution of the borough assembly, the commission may enter into agreement as an agent of the borough to maintain and operate Lake Tyee Hydroelectric Project owned by the state. But it’s only through this agreement that’s given to them by the borough. By this body,” says Decker.

Stough responded: “That’s right and you did it by ordinance and ordinance is a law.”

Decker responded: “It says—the ordinance says—on approval by resolution of the borough assembly.”

“That was forming it,” said Stough.

“No, it says the commission may enter into agreement given that resolution,” said Decker.

This underscores the fact that many of the governing documents were written many years ago, which has opened them to interpretation over time.

The assembly plans to consult with the attorney on the wording of these ordinances.

It will also consult directly with the Thomas Bay Power Commissioners. Assembly member Daniel Blake made a motion to ask for a response and opinion from the full commission, rather than just the president, to be presented at the next assembly meeting.

With the attorney and commissioners responses, the assembly hopes for more clarity on these convoluted issues.

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