SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


It's Not A Question Of Beach Or Pool
By Eric Muench


October 04, 2008

Opposition to purchase of South Point Higgins Beach has been based on other needs for the money, but the argument is flawed. The high cost of dealing with a defective Mike Smithers swimming pool was raised as reason to abandon a public swimming beach. How odd. But the two are different and separate issues. Lumping them is not like comparing apples and oranges. It is more like grapes and watermelons.

In the critical issue of timing they are years apart. A negotiated purchase agreement between the Borough and Mental Health Trust requires voter approval and sale completion in 2008. Failing that there is no agreement. The Trust would then assume that there is no Borough purchase interest and will be free to offer the property at competitive bid whenever it wishes. Because of its road access and ease of subdivision, the place is ripe for sale and thus for its permanent loss to the public. On the other hand the swimming pool problem requires intensive study of its defects and community discussion of available options. Answering questions of size, methods, cost, possible relocation and funding will take two to three years to sort out.

There is the issue of consequences. There are no new public beaches being created anywhere close to our populated areas. In fact there has been no additional near-shoreline road built in 46 years, since the road to Beaver Falls was completed in the fall of 1962. And none is on the horizon. This loss would be permanent. But fixing, rebuilding or relocating an artificial swimming pool can be done wherever and whenever the citizenry decides to do it.

Then there is the lopsided cost comparison. Beach purchase would be guaranteed by a commitment of the Borough to the $1.17 million price. Approval by the voters will encourage the Rasmusson fund provide up to a $570,000 grant toward the purchase. In addition the Borough might sell a conservation easement for about $200,000 in Bear Valley wetlands. These steps could reduce the cash outlay to as little as about $400,000, or a bit over one third of its selling price. Solutions to the swimming pool problem have been estimated at $12 to $20 to $30 million, depending on community choices. This could range from 10 to 75 times the beach purchase cost.

Finally the payment method would be entirely different. South Point Higgins Beach purchase is cheap enough so that the Borough can self-finance and avoid interest payments to Wall Street bond merchants. The $400,000 to $1,170,000 (depending on developments) would come from the Borough s Land Trust Fund and be repaid to that fund by already planned future land sales. The Borough s loss of interest income from a temporary Lands Trust Fund drawdown would be less than saved bond interest payments for a similar amount. On the other hand the much higher cost of the swimming pool could only be funded through a bond sale with a lengthy repayment period including hefty interest sums each year, or by a very large State capital improvement appropriation. Losing the beach to save its cost would have no meaningful effect on the pool issue.

Some other s opposition reasons, such as substituting a 5 mile trail from the end of the new Gravina Road to Black Sands Beach are so impractical and expensive as to be non-starters. In short, there is no reason to lose a popular local recreation beach to try and make a future swimming pool project possible.

Eric Muench
Ketchikan, AK

About: "A 46 year Alaska resident who wants valuable public use land to remain accessible to the public "

Received October 01, 2008 - Published October 04, 2008


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