The borough assembly last night voted to postpone discussion of a controversial letter until the next regular meeting.
The letter, written by assembly member James Stough, questions how the transfer of the Tyee Hydroelectric Facility has been handled.
Specifically, it calls for the Southeast Alaska Power Agency and the borough assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg to “cease and desist” negotiations until Thomas Bay can play a more active role.
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Vice mayor Julie Decker moved to discuss the letter under new business at the meeting. She was one of two votes in favor with four votes against- which postponed the item until the next meeting.
She says she’s not sure why this is being brought up this late in the game.
“It’s perplexing. I mean, it’s been months since December when we took the action we did. And also, if Thomas Bay Power Commission/Authority wants to be involved in the negotiations they can pick up the phone. In fact, I think that would be a good thing,” says Decker.
Last summer, Petersburg decided to stop paying its portion of Thomas Bay Power Authority non-net billable costs for the operations and maintenance or O&M of Tyee.
That got the ball rolling. Wrangell’s assembly followed up by entering into exploratory talks with Petersburg and SEAPA about transferring Tyee from TBPA to SEAPA.
By January of this year, these talks were in full swing.
But Vice Mayor Julie Decker says the timing isn’t the only issue.
“The reason I wanted to discuss it tonight is I wanted to ask Assembly member Stough was there a meeting? Did the commission authorize him to send that letter? The feedback I’ve received so far is that the commission didn’t even know the letter was being sent,” says Decker.
Assembly member Daniel Blake was the other vote, alongside Decker, in favor of discussing the letter at this meeting and not postponing.
He says Stough was acting unethically.
“I understand that he did this on his own without the blessing of the rest of the Thomas Bay commission. In fact, I don’t believe any of them knew about it ahead of time. But he put this letter out there as being from them. So, that’s going to be up to the commission as far as what action they want to take,” says Blake.
James Stough is a Wrangell assembly member and president of the Thomas Bay Power Commission.
He defends his decision to send the letter to Robert Sivertsen, Chairman of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency or SEAPA. He forwarded copies to the Wrangell and Petersburg borough assemblies.
He says the letter is meant to start a discussion.
“This letter writing has no…non-intent behind it. All it is is a letter laying out the rules that we have to follow right now. And I have the right as Thomas Bay president to bring forth the rules because we haven’t discussed the rules and the communities need to be aware of these rules. In some cases we’ve got the cart in front of the horse here and we need to get back to following our rules. Our rules are set. I mean, we’re supposed to go by them,” says Stough.
The rules in question dictate which entities have the authority to enter into negotiations.
That includes discussion of the transfer of the Tyee Hydroelectric Facility to SEAPA and the possibility of putting the Thomas Bay Power Commission into inactive status.
Thomas Bay holds the O&M contract for Tyee. SEAPA contracts with TBPA for that work.
James Stough says that SEAPA has the authority to say it wants to terminate that contract.
He also says the two borough assemblies have the authority to make resolutions. So, Petersburg and Wrangell could say they would like to see Tyee transferred to SEAPA.
But, he says, as the contract holder, it’s up to Thomas Bay to negotiate any type of transfer or change of that contract.
“The boroughs have both overstepped their negotiating bounds. Those rights were all given to Thomas Bay Power Commission and Authority under those contracts,” says Stough.
The assemblies could move forward with dissolving Thomas Bay as they were the voting bodies responsible for its creation.
“If you sent a letter or dissolved it at a meeting that means the next day, the doors are closed. Then they’d have to legally shut down the operation and run your generators which would be a cost to the community,” says Stough.
So, Stough says, as long as Thomas Bay is operating, it needs to be at the front of this conversation. He says he’s not questioning whether or not Tyee is transferred, he’s just concerned with the procedure. He says if SEAPA wants to end its contract with Thomas Bay, it needs to be the instigator.
“The commission would have to negotiate with SEAPA if that’s what SEAPA wanted to do and figure out the route and how to take that route. It’s not really the assemblies of either communities to do that. They signed their rights away when they formed Thomas Bay Power Commission and Thomas Bay Power Authority. That’s all I’m doing is saying hey, you guys have gotten away from the rules. Let’s go back up to the rules, start there, and then move forward,” says Stough.
But, assembly member Daniel Blake says the assembly has already acted on the decision to transfer and Stough’s concerns are belated.
“We had various readings on it and public hearings. We voted on it and it passed. At that point, for him to come back and do what he’s done here I think is unethical. Even if he doesn’t agree on the action, he has an ethical responsibility to support it since it was passed by the assembly,” says Blake.
Vice Mayor Julie Decker says she thinks there are deeper issues here than what’s on the surface.
“My impression is that there’s something else going on here; it’s not about the ordinances. Because, if you read the ordinances that he’s referencing, there’s many things that aren’t happening also in those ordinances that he’s not concerned about. To me it seems like there’s an issue about the direction we’re going and he’s trying to either change that direction or slow it down,” says Decker.
But, Stough maintains that’s not his point. He says it’s about communication.
“As the Thomas Bay Power Commission, we have not been informed and we are not part of the loop. And consequently, this letter has gone out to clarify the rules and hopefully we can all sit down together at a table and discuss how to move forward,” says Stough.
The Wrangell assembly, at least, will have that chance when they bring this topic up for discussion at their next meeting, scheduled for April 22nd.