Priorities set for City of Bethel

by K.J. Lincoln

The Bethel City Council has worked on setting the funding priorities for the State of Alaska Capital Budget for FY 2018. There are four items on the list.

“Every year the City of Bethel and just about everybody else submits capital requests to the legislature,” said Mayor Richard Robb during the November 8th, 2016 council meeting. “Last year we were lucky our community got the capital request of the high school cafeteria. That was the only thing that got funded. That was not a capital request but it was something for our community. During the legislative session after it was approved this body did pass a resolution in support so that it would not get vetoed.”

“The community of Bethel takes its responsibility as a hub community for a region of 30,000 people seriously,” says Resolution 16-32 which describes the requests. “Many projects the City has championed benefit tens of thousands of Alaskans who do not reside in City limits.”

At the top is the Institutional Corridor Water Delivery System Phase 2 in the amount of $4,500,000. The State of Alaska provided the City of Bethel with $7,000,000 from the FY 2014 Alaska Capital Budget to fund more than half of the Institutional Corridor Water Delivery System project, which left the City with a shortfall of $4,500,000.

The City worked with DOWL engineers to design the project which now requires less linear feet of pipe at less cost to accomplish the same number of institutional connections.

“Once the project is complete, the City will receive a net gain from water sales to the institutions and three of the institutions will be able to close their water plants for good, eliminating the hardship of well management and proper water treatment,” states Resolution 16-32.

In number two is a request for $850,000 for an Emergency Response Fire Ladder Truck. The Bethel Fire Chief has determined that the current ladder truck no longer meets mission requirements, safety requirements, or the needs of the community. After 36 years of continual service, the ladder truck is in poor condition and has failed to achieve certification in each of the last three years.

Furthermore, parts and service for the 1980 ladder truck have become obsolete or exceedingly difficult to find though significant repairs are needed. The truck also does not meet current NFPA, DOT, or EPA standards.

In the last three years, the City of Bethel responded to two major fires as well as numerous smaller fires. The last fire damaged the ladder truck rendering it no longer operational.

With the development of several buildings exceeding the reach of the current ladder truck, the Fire Department needs a ladder truck capable of reaching the third floor of a building to rescue trapped or endangered building occupants. A ladder truck with greater reach and greater pumping capability will help to lower home insurance rates in Bethel.

Thirdly, a road around H-Marker Lake is desperately needed. This request is in the amount of $1,820,752. The community of Bethel has been severely hampered by the closure of Tundra Ridge Road in 2008 because it broke the circuit and causing all traffic to flow in a “U” pattern from the State Highway to Ptarmigan Street.

“The City worked diligently with State and private landowners to re-open the road, but after seven years, the impasse remains,” Res. 16-32 says.

The City’s proposed solution is to build a new gravel road around H-Marker Lake that will connect the public part of Tundra Ridge Road with Ptarmigan Street to complete the circuit again. The new road, if built, between the State Highway and Ptarmigan is expected to save lives and reduce injuries as a result of faster emergency vehicle response times, less drive time to town, lower fuel cost, and reduced vehicle maintenance cost.

The City of Bethel is willing and able to provide sand, heavy equipment, and personnel to assist in the development of the new road.

For number 4, it is the Small Boat Harbor for $2,500,000. The City of Bethel has received funding from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Denali Commission, and the State of Alaska for improvements to the Bethel Small Boat Harbor over the last five years. Three sections of bank encompassing 1,300 feet are all that are left to improve with webbing and gravel in order to stabilize 100% of the banks, thereby reducing slough-off and the need for dredging. Additionally, several culverts are needed to improve the parking lot and road access to the harbor.

The harbor allows Bethel residents easy, convenient, and inexpensive access to the Kuskokwim River for subsistence harvest of fish and game, access to fish camps, recreational uses, commercial fishing, commercial birding/guiding, wood gathering, and transportation to and from villages on the river.

Nearby villagers depend on the harbor when they travel by boat to Bethel for medical appointments, vocational training, college attendance, conferences/workshops, government services, shopping, employment, air transportation to Anchorage and points beyond, and to visit friends and relatives.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has designated the Bethel Small Boat Harbor as a “harbor of refuge” and provides protection for small boaters from storms, high seas, and other natural hazards.

Res. 16-32 states that great strides have been made to improve the harbor over the last five years and this project represents the final bank stabilization effort needed to complete the harbor.

The total requested comes out to $9,670,752. Resolution 16-32, introduced by the then Acting City Manager Pete Williams (now the current City Manager), passed unanimously.

The City of Bethel has been proactively pursuing funding strategies with federal and state agencies amidst the State’s difficulties in maintaining a sustainable budget. A legislative update was provided to council by Senator Lyman Hoffman and Representative Zach Fansler during the December 13th, 2016 meeting.