Ketchikan Borough Advocacy Trip
By Rodney Dial
April 18, 2018
I scrutinize every penny of Borough spending and wanted to keep you in the loop regarding a recent action we took. Just over a week ago the Borough sent me, Mayor Landis and Borough Manager Duran to Washington DC to advocate on behalf of our borough. The issues we presented were reviewed and approved unanimously by the Assembly and are of great importance to growing our economy, protecting our rights and keeping our taxes from increasing.
At no time did we discuss politics or our personal opinions with anyone we met, at any time. The Mayor and I volunteered our time and were not paid to go on this trip. The borough paid for airfare, lodging and incidentals. This is perhaps the greatest return on investment for the lowest cost that the borough does. In my opinion, we “knocked it out of the park”…the trip was a huge success. I hope you find value in what we accomplished and please know we fought hard for our community.
My required trip report is attached below. It is my opinion of the trip; however, the Borough reviewed and fact checked prior to release. It is a long read, skip to the end if you are only interested in the results. If you have concerns, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 Ketchikan Gateway Borough Advocacy Trip Report by Rodney Dial
On March 5, 2018, the Borough Assembly approved Federal Policy Issue Statements of Interest to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, identifying thirteen topics of importance to the citizens of the borough. These issues required extensive research on the part of Borough staff and the creation of “issue papers” to be used to promote Borough concerns. The Assembly approved the list unanimously, and authorized a delegation of three individuals to travel to Washington DC April 8th-11th, to advocate on behalf of the Borough.
During the weeks that followed, Mayor Landis, Manager Duran and I met for planning sessions while staff worked behind the scenes arranging meetings and sending Borough issue papers to all involved.
On March 7th, I made a request to Mayor Landis and Manager Duran to “Think Big” regarding our plan for the upcoming advocacy trip. A copy of that request follows:
On March 13th, the advocacy team met to plan the trip and discuss my request for a meeting with the executive branch. Mayor Landis and Manager Duran were receptive to the idea and agreed to have staff prepare an official request for dissemination by our Congressional delegation. A copy of the signed letters are provided here:
Mayor Landis assigned specific policy issues to each of the delegates. Of the thirteen Borough issues to be addressed, the following were assigned to me:
1. FEMA National Flood Insurance Program,
As has been done in previous years, it was decided that the delegation would promote the community in general and phase two of the Ketchikan Shipyard build-out. There was consensus that an official presentation document would be prepared for the potential meeting with the Executive Branch. The packet contained community promotion documents including the “Our Town” booklet prepared by Historic Ketchikan, Inc..
Great credit is due to staff who tirelessly worked behind the scenes to arrange the many meetings. I would like to specifically thank Jill Evans, Executive Secretary for the Manager. Ms. Evans’ work on pursuing a meeting with the Executive Branch was simply outstanding. She took on this task as a mission, working with our congressional delegation on the details. Senator Sullivan’s Office ran with this request and made it happen. I would recommend the Manager consider a commendation for Ms. Evans and a formal thank you letter to Senator Sullivan and his staff for making this happen.
On April 8th, the delegation traveled to Washington DC, arriving around 10pm. On April 9th, our first meeting was with the National Association of Counties (NACo), located at 660 N Capital St.
To follow is a detailed overview of the meetings held while in Washington DC”
NACo Meeting 4/9/18 0900 hours.
The role of National Association of Counties (NACo) is to advocate on behalf of thousands of counties and governments across the country. This was a perfect first meeting and proved critical for the meetings that followed. The delegation met with several NACo representatives and discussed the Borough's lists of concerns. NACo commented repeatedly about the high quality of the Borough issue papers they had received prior to the meeting.
NACo had a good understanding of the issues of the Borough, and I was impressed with how many of our issues were similar to those of other jurisdictions across the country. The greatest benefit of this meeting occurred during the discussion of the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program.
While we were discussing this topic, Hadli Sadligh, Associate Legislative Director for Justice and Public Safety, remembered a small section of the FY 2018 Omnibus Federal Spending Package regarding the FEMA issue. Hadli directed his staff to find this section, at which point a staff member left the meeting before coming back about five minutes later with the relevant information. This was impressive as the Omnibus Federal Spending bill, including attachments, was several thousand pages long, and reports were that many Senators who voted for this bill didn’t even have time to read it in its entirety before it was passed. This was an important development, as the delegation would next be meeting with FEMA.
Specifically, the section of importance was a few paragraphs which in essence stated the following:
This omnibus information had been previously unknown to the Borough and represented a significant enhancement to the Borough’s arguments/requests to FEMA in the subsequent meeting. The delegation utilized the NACo facility workspace to adjust the narrative for the upcoming FEMA meeting. NACo staff was extremely professional and supportive and Borough arguments were well received. NACo offered additional support in the pursuit of Borough concerns.
At the completion of the meeting and planning session at NACo, the delegation traveled to the FEMA meeting at 400 C St. SW.
FEMA National Flood Insurance Program Meeting 4/9/18 1130 hours
After an introduction by the Mayor, I presented the Borough’s position and requests in this matter. Essentially, the Borough argument contained the following elements and requests:
During the presentation, we countered FEMA claims that they were unable/unwilling to undertake the ground-truthing due to funding concerns with the new information obtained at the NACo meeting. FEMA did not dispute the Omnibus information.
FEMA essentially responded to the Borough requests in the following ways: First, they said they were unable to delay the 90-day appeal process due to regulatory requirements, that they would not engage in ground-truthing, and would not consider altering FEMA construction standards.
The delegation countered with evidence obtained the day prior that suggested that if the Borough “opted out” of the FEMA Flood Insurance program, citizens who were required to obtain private insurance (for federally-insured mortgages) could obtain it for approximately $1600 per year. This was in contrast to the Borough “opting in” to the program and citizens potentially spending $4500 or more per year for insurance.
Additionally, that “opting in” to the program also carried the negative consequences of the new FEMA building codes. We suggested that if the goal of FEMA was to maximize participation in this program nationwide, then consideration of our requests should be of concern to them as the specifics of participation would be critical for Borough Assembly approval.
FEMA’s reply to this was surprising to the delegation. FEMA representatives essentially said that they are not concerned with the affordability of construction standards, prompting the Mayor to ask them to repeat that statement. The delegation found it ironic that, on the one hand FEMA was not willing to verify (ground truth) its own work… due to costs… but were unconcerned about the costs the citizens of the Borough would assume with contesting FEMA mapping errors and the new construction standards.
The delegation was able to obtain concessions from FEMA to provide more accurate insurance estimates, due to the large discrepancy between what local (Ketchikan) insurance agents were reporting as estimated premium costs and the costs FEMA was projecting. It is worth noting that FEMA had previously refused to provide a written copy of insurance estimates to the Borough, and only allowed a visual observation of the document, prompting the Borough Manager to take a picture of the document with his phone.
The delegation continued to press the insurance cost issue and the concern that our citizens should not be forced to pay rates higher than the national average to subsidize other communities far more likely to have flood issues. The delegation pointed out that Ketchikan is one of the wettest locations on earth, built from its founding to handle significant water. Further, that in the last 30 years only three flood claims have occurred, totaling less that $100 thousand.
The Borough argument to FEMA was focused and pointed. We were well-prepared and the impression I received at the end of the meeting was that we would essentially get our delay in implementation although they were unwilling to extend the 90-day appeal period. When questioned regarding when this process would be finalized and implemented, assuming Assembly approval of participation, FEMA responded it would be one to 1.5 years.
My opinion is that this meeting went as well as could be expected and that we clearly identified our concerns, including that we would not be forced into participation if it was ultimately decided by the Assembly to not be in the best interests of the community. The level of scrutiny we brought to this process can reasonably be expected to delay implementation and, as a result, delay the mandates to purchase flood insurance saving our citizens money. This meeting also laid the groundwork for the meetings with our Congressional Delegation that followed.
NOAA Meeting 4/9/18 1300 hours
This meeting was to discuss the homeporting of the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Ketchikan and NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Center Auke Bay Laboratories. These topics were spearheaded by Mayor Landis.
Essentially, both these issues represent significant federal investment in the Borough. Under Federal law, the Fairweather is required to be homeported in Ketchikan, and, in doing so, would add millions in federal support to the region.
Mayor Landis was familiar with these issues and has argued on their behalf before. During the discussions with Rear Admiral Michael Silah, he acknowledged that the Fairweather is required to be homeported in Ketchikan, but expressed concerns with implementing this requirement due to the age of the vessel and lack of appropriate facilities in Ketchikan. RADM Silah indicated that millions of dollars in dock improvements were needed.
Mayor Landis also promoted the need/benefit of the Auke Bay Laboratories. At the conclusion of this meeting, RADM Silah offered to continue to work towards addressing the Borough’s concerns.
This meeting proved valuable for the subsequent meeting with Senator Sullivan.
USFS meeting 4/9/18 1530 hours.
This meeting covered the following topics:
This was a productive meeting and several of these issues have been resolved and/or are currently being addressed.
The Secure Rural Schools (SRS) issue has now been resolved in favor of the Borough and this represents a great example of the value of the Borough advocacy trips. This issue was promoted by past advocacy trips and was resolved in the days prior to this meeting.
Congress passed 2018 spending bill P.L. 115-141 that included reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program. SRS payments to states will resume, including retroactive payments to states for FY17. This is a win for the borough worth millions, and Senator Murkowski’s office helped make this happen.
Other topics discussed included land conveyed for timber harvests in the Shelter Cove area, and that only one objection to the sale had been received by the USFS.
Additionally, productive discussions regarding the State National Forest Management Act and the Tongass National Forest “Roadless Rule” were held. In essence, Rep. Don Young has introduced H.R. 232 to address Borough concerns with the Forest Management Act. There is consensus among the Congressional Delegation of the importance of resolving the Roadless Rule.
My impression of the USFS meeting was that due to the change in administration, the USFS was pursuing a policy of management of the National Forest for all uses, including preservation and resource development and that efforts are underway to streamline the process for bring resource development on line in a timely manner. For example, the USFS felt that resolution of the Shelter Cove objection could be addressed in only a few months.
Significant progress has taken place on most of these issues to the benefit of the Borough.
Governor’s Office meeting 4/9/18 1630 hours
The purpose of this meeting was to discuss all 13 Borough issues with John Crowther, Director of State and Federal Relations and Assistant Director Dottie Ochoa. They had received the Borough Issue Papers prior to our arrival and pledged support on all issues. This office also assisted the advocacy team in preparation for Tuesday’s meeting with the Executive Branch.
Executive Branch / Whitehouse Staff meeting 4/10/18 1000 hours.
The advocacy team arrived early for this meeting in order to process through Secret Service screening and met with William H. Kirkland, Special Assistant to the President. This meeting was arguably the most productive for the delegation.
All Borough issues were elevated to the top level of government. Manager Duran presented Mr. Kirkland with a professional binder, detailing all Borough concerns by applicable federal agency. Mr. Kirkland seemed especially concerned with the Borough’s FEMA Flood Insurance issue and pledged support. Other comments of note include the support of rural communities in America.
The delegation also promoted the citizens and industry of the Borough, discussing tourism, the Shipyard, the arts, etc. A handwritten letter was also passed on for the President, thanking him for his efforts in support of our community and an open invitation to visit our island.
This meeting is already yielding benefits to the Borough. We have received word that the Executive Branch is already making inquiries into the FEMA issue for the Borough. I feel confident that this reinforces the importance of these issues to our Congressional Delegation.
Meeting with Senator Lisa Murkowski 4/10/18 at 1530 hours.
Senator Murkowski and her staff were thanked for their efforts in resolving the Secure Rural School issue. The main topics of discussion revolved around the FEMA Flood Insurance Issue and the Sea Otter Management Issue.
Senator Murkowski seemed receptive to further efforts to address Borough concerns with the FEMA issue and offered support to finding a way to address management of Sea Otters.
This meeting ran longer than expected, pushing back the Borough’s meetings with Senator Sullivan and Congressman Don Young.
Meeting with Senator Sullivan 4/10/18 at about 1700 hours.
After arrival at Senator Sullivan’s office, we met with staff and discussed Borough topics, focusing on the FEMA issue. Senator Sullivan’s staff was impressive. They had previously reviewed the Borough issue papers and had a good understanding of our concerns.
While the discussion with staff was occurring, Senator Sullivan was testifying in the Facebook Hearings in the Congressional Chambers. Staff led the delegation to the hearings, and allowed us to remain in the “Green Room” adjacent to the chamber where we waited for Senator Sullivan to conclude his questioning. We then met with Senator Sullivan and his staff.
Senator Sullivan was thanked for his efforts in arranging a meeting with the staff of the President. The most important part of this meeting occurred during the discussions between the Mayor and Senator regarding the homeporting of the Fairweather in Ketchikan. Senator Sullivan was acutely aware of this issue and has been involved in the confirmation process for RADM Silah. When we relayed the narrative of the meeting we had with the RADM, Senator Sullivan seemed strongly determined to fix this and felt the delay in resolving his issue was unacceptable.
Senator Sullivan immediately coordinated a follow-up meeting with the Mayor and RADM Silah on April 11th, and assured the Borough he would handle this issue. The delegation also received assurances that the Senator and his staff would address Borough concerns with the FEMA issue. The Senator’s staff were already working on a plan to address Borough concerns prior to our departure.
The last official meeting for the delegation as a group was with Congressman Don Young.
Meeting with Congressman Don Young, 4/10/18 at approximately 1800 hours.
This was a high power, straight-to-the-point type of meeting that focused primarily on the FEMA issue and Sea Otter Management. After a series of questions on part of the Congressman, a plan was developed to address the FEMA issue. Congressman Young made a request for additional information from the Borough Manager regarding the percentage of structures affected by the FEMA insurance requirements that have federally-backed mortgages. Manager Duran pledged Borough support and immediately began to address this request after the meeting.
Congressman Young also fully agreed with the Borough on the sea otter management issue and offered support. The delegation thanked Congressman Young for his efforts regarding H.R. 232; the State National Forest Management Act.
Results and current status of the 13 Borough issues:
In closing, this was an incredibly productive trip for the citizens of the Borough and represents an impressive collaboration to promote issues important to the citizens. Borough staff is to be commended for the research, planning and promotion of the advocacy trip. The Borough Manager coordinated these efforts flawlessly and helped in many ways to make this trip a success. The Mayor and I donated our time for this trip, and the Mayor should be commended for taking vacation time from his “day job” to advocate for the citizens. This was a team effort that, in my opinion, put Ketchikan in the spotlight in Washington DC.
Thank you for allowing me to advocate on behalf of the citizens of the Borough. It was an honor, and I am confident we will see results from this endeavor.
Received April 16, 2018 - Published April 18, 2018
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