Dozens of people fill the Assembly chambers to testify during a Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday night. Most of the people spoke about either a proposed municipal compost facility, or an ordinance updating landslide and avalanche zone maps. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dozens of people fill the Assembly chambers to testify during a Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday night. Most of the people spoke about either a proposed municipal compost facility, or an ordinance updating landslide and avalanche zone maps. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly roundup: Seawalk barriers go off the rails, compost proposal trashed, McEwen clerk of the year

Crowd defends private composter as city weighs own facility; dock rails stall with 2 members absent.

A lot of people showed up to defend a private composting operator they say will be threatened by a proposed municipal facility, while the absence of a couple of people at least temporarily stalled funds for new safety rails along the downtown Seawalk during the Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday night.

The three-hour-plus meeting, during which the Assembly passed a controversial new ordinance about mapping of areas considered vulnerable to avalanches and landslides, began with a public comment period where most people spoke in favor of the Juneau Composts facility that’s been privately run for seven years. Most commenters urged the city to consider options such as a partnership with federal funds received for a new municipal facility.

Two Assembly members later departed the meeting early for differing reasons, which resulted in a 4-3 vote — one short of the five necessary for passage — to approve $500,000 for the first phase of a planned $2 million for additional railing along the main cruise ship dock. However, it appears likely the project will eventually be implemented since a reconsideration notice was offered immediately afterward, and City and Borough of Juneau Dock and Harbors officials said they plan to fund at least some of the project from their budget if necessary.

Near the end of the meeting it was announced City Clerk Beth McEwen was last week named the Municipal Clerk of the Year for 2023 by the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks. Earlier, while assistant clerk in 2015, she was named the Alaska Municipal League’s Municipal Employee of the Year.

Lisa Daugherty (left), owner of Juneau Composts, explains her concerns about a proposed municipal composting facility during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lisa Daugherty (left), owner of Juneau Composts, explains her concerns about a proposed municipal composting facility during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

City’s composting proposal gets trashed

A two- to five-acre municipal composting facility at the former Lemon Creek gravel pit is being proposed after the city received $2.5 million in federal funds for design and construction a year ago. Public comments about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project are being accepted until Dec 26 — and at Monday’s meeting half a dozen people showed up to express their concerns in person.

The facility, expected to cost up to $7 million and not be ready for operation until at least 2027, received a Preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact from the Environmental Protection Agency. But people testifying Monday said their concerns go beyond the environmental aspects.

“I have concerns that the operation of this proposed facility will create an unneeded burden to the general public, and require ongoing subsidies for maintenance and operations,” said Erik Pedersen, a Twin Lakes resident. “And I don’t know if the need for the facility has been clearly established — we already have a private business that is doing a fabulous job of composting here.”

A petition by Lisa Daugherty, owner of Juneau Composts, calling for the city to consider a partnership agreement among its options, had 857 signatures as of early Tuesday morning. Yvette Soutiere, a downtown resident, was among those Monday expressing support for the idea.

“You either need to partner with them as a nonprofit immediately or ask for (requests for proposals) immediately, because we need to have some sort of plan moving forward and she’s doing a good job,” Soutiere said. “She’s already in place, it’s working well and she’s trusted. Undermining this would undermine any composting project with CBJ.”

Daugherty, also testifying at the hearing, said she’s felt “a lack of transparency and collaboration in the past” with some officials, while “Juneau Composts has been the one constant that has delivered compost results for our community.”

“I’m in limbo because the city is wanting to use taxpayer money to build a facility they do not even have operational plans for with so many unknowns, she said.

Visitors take a selfie on the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Visitors take a selfie on the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Safety railing for downtown Seawalk stalls

Spending $500,000 for the first phase of about 1,300 feet of safety railings along the downtown cruise ship docks due to safety concerns got the approval of a majority of Assembly members voting on the proposal Monday. But because two members were absent, the 4-3 vote fell short of the five votes needed on the nine-member Assembly.

Advocates said the lack of safety rails along the heavily-traveled portion of the Seawalk is a hazard — referring to a couple of dangerous situations that occurred, including a bicyclist who fell into the water. But some dissenting Assembly members said the rails would impede an attractive seating and viewing area, and given the millions of passengers that have walked the docks over the years the handful of hazardous incidents don’t suggest an excessively dangerous situation.

The majority of the Seawalk currently has “bull rails” — large pieces of timber that run along the front of the dock face, with a width and height that make them popular for seating. The new railing would allow people to lean on the top rail and watch the waterfront.

Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, among the Assembly members opposing the project, said she doesn’t consider the dock a major safety concern and there are better uses for the $2 million the full railing would cost, especially given the popularity of the bull rails by people resting and eating lunch on them.

“The vista is I feel like more enjoyable at that location as far as feeling like a real waterfront,” she said. “And given the number of cruise ship passengers who use the Seawalk every year since it’s been built…when at times that it’s so crowded that you can even hardly push your way in one direction or the other…I think it proves that we can use the Seawalk as it is now and enjoy it as it is now.”

But Don Etheridge, chair of CBJ’s Docks and Harbors Board, told Assembly members the board fully supports the project and there is an intention to pay for sections of it — beyond the funds the Assembly considered Monday — using funds as they are available in the Dock Enterprise Fund Balance.

“Trying to stop people from falling off the dock is what our main attention is on this,” he said.

Wade Bryson and ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake each had to depart the meeting before the issue was considered, resulting in the 4-3 vote. Assembly member Paul Kelly offered a notice of reconsideration for the next scheduled Assembly meeting Jan. 8.

Juneau Municipal Clerk Beth McEwen listens to a discussion during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. She was named the Municipal Clerk of the Year by the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks last week. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Municipal Clerk Beth McEwen listens to a discussion during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. She was named the Municipal Clerk of the Year by the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks last week. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

McEwen named municipal clerk of the year

McEwen said she was “was blindsided and had absolutely no idea this was something I had even been nominated for” when she was named the statewide Municipal Employee of the Year in 2015. Last week, she expressed similar shock when she caught totally off-guard when was named Municipal Clerk of the Year while filming the awards ceremony hosted by the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks.

“I was filming this totally expecting someone else to receive this year’s AAMC Municipal Clerk of the Year award and was absolutely gobsmacked when Melissa said my name,” McEwen wrote in a Dec. 5 Facebook post after the ceremony. “I am so humbled by such an honor to be nominated by Deputy Clerk Diane Cathcart and my amazing mentor Laurie Sica.”

McEwen’s award was announced during Monday’s Assembly meeting by Mayor Beth Weldon. McEwen has worked for CBJ for 26 years and served as city clerk since 2018. After Monday’s meeting, she said she has no plans to stop any time soon.

“It is a great honor to be the face of democracy for our local citizens, to be that conduit, to conduct elections, to help people know where the resources are to pay their utility bills,” she said.

“I had a couple once, they were of French nationality and living here in Juneau with their offspring and, in order to get their pension, had to appear in person in living color in front of a public official,” she said. “I had the honor and privilege of stamping the city seal saying they appeared in front of me for years until their health declined…and I then had the honor and privilege of being able to go and do a house call to perform that duty.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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