SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Re: Ketchikan Pool Bond Vote
By Dave Kiffer


June 18, 2009

I'm glad that Mr. Bylund considers himself an expert on the "general welfare" of this community. But either he wasn't here in the 1960s when I was growing up or he wasn't paying attention.

I remember those halcyon days before there was a community pool in Ketchikan. Mostly what I remember is that - in our community entirely surrounded by water - children drowned just about every summer. In fact, it was a pretty light year if only one or two did. One year six children died in five separate swimming accidents at local beaches and harbors.

Now, how was that possible in a town where so many people made a living on the water? Let me explain. Even in my own commercial fishing family (great grandparents, grandparents, father) swimming was not stressed or necessarily even encouraged. In fact, to this day, I can't even say whether my grandparents - who spent 60 years commercial fishing around here - even knew how to swim. There was a belief that if your boat got in trouble you'd be too far off shore to save yourself anyway.

Maybe it was just that old fisherman fatalism at work, I don't know. I just know that a lot of the adults in Ketchikan didn't take the issue seriously. They always had a reason to say no.

I know that the youth of the community petitioned local government at least three times between the 1940s and the mid 1960s to build an indoor pool. But it never happened. There was an attempt to make the tidepool at Bugge Beach a community swimming pool and I'm sure that some folks did learn to swim there. But an outdoor pool with few organized lesson programs was not a really good option for Ketchikan.

Simply put, the powers that be were loathe to spend the money to build the pools and then to require students to take lessons. And kids just kept drowning (not to mention quite a few adults).

I'm sure that the excuses given all those years of not going into debt and not raising taxes would sound very appropriate to Mr. Bylund. And I'm sure that at least someone back then pointed out that somehow the vast majority of the people shouldn't be forced to pay for something that might only benefit a minority of residents, the children of the community for example.

Personally I get tired of hearing people say that they "would like to see a new pool" yet they are clearly not interested in paying for it. They offer up a variety of "what ifs" intended to make any proposed plan look faulty. But the "what ifs" are merely speculation and not very accurate speculation at that. Once again, they are an excuse not to do something. I'd rather have the pool opponents just be honest and just say that a new pool is not a priority to them.

Anyway, two pools were finally built when the state offered to help in the early 1970s and school kids were required to spend time in them and what happened? Drownings became a very rare thing.

In fact, I can't remember the last time a local school child drowned.

Now the existing single pool is indeed on its last legs and we are faced with either building a new one or going without. I remember what it was like to be without.

I'm half tempted to provide Mr. Bylund with a list of parents whose children drowned in Ketchikan when I was growing up. I would love to hear him explain to them why the level of his taxes is a more important consideration than the lives of the children of this community.

Dave Kiffer
Ketchikan, AK

About: Dave Kiffer is Mayor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

Received June 18, 2008 - Published June 18, 2009


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