The Wrangell Borough Assembly Tuesday unanimously approved a contract to transfer the operation and management of the Tyee Lake electrical power plant to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.
That agency owns Tyee Lake, one of the hydroprojects that powers Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan. But the Thomas Bay Power Authority, funded jointly by Wrangell and Petersburg, has a contract for the operation and maintenance of Tyee. The Thomas Bay Power Commission, which oversees the authority, voted last month to turn operations and maintenance over to SEAPA. These groups, along with the borough assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg, are working to finalize the transfer of Tyee.
The Petersburg borough assembly approved the formal transition agreement Monday night. After the Wrangell assembly’s decision, the Thomas Bay Power Commission is the final group that has to approve the contract.
The commission will meet Thursday morning to review the transition agreement. It is close to being finalized after nearly a year of discussion.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Wrangell Borough Assembly member Julie Decker said.
Decker said SEAPA has been responsive during transition negotiations.
“I think that they’re trying to show good faith, that they want to move things along in a responsible way. And they’ve addressed every concern we’ve put in front of them,” Decker said.
One of the assembly’s main concerns was that Wrangell would lose jobs as a result of the transfer.
Decker said SEAPA agreed to maintain and staff the office in Wrangell.
“And they say as a part of this agreement SEAPA has agreed to add a second regular employee for the brushing crew. So that’s another additional employee in Wrangell.”
SEAPA will absorb the union workers of the Thomas Bay Power Authority. The two groups have negotiated a tentative collective bargaining agreement.
Wrangell and Petersburg also worried that, as a result of the transfer, they’d have to pick up the tab for removing Thomas Bay workers from Alaska’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). The municipalities could owe the state up to $750,000.
But Wrangell Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said SEAPA will cover that cost.
“And they actually stepped up to the plate and said as long as this takes, they will keep reimbursing us,” Jabusch said. “So we were kind of surprised that they actually went that direction, but we’re glad they did.”
If the transfer to SEAPA is completed, Wrangell and Petersburg will each save about $55,000 per year. That comes from the costs of a secretary’s salary, travel for commission members, meeting fees and attorney fees.