Newly Elected Officials Training and Alaska Municipal League Conference
By Austin Otos
December 03, 2019
The Alaska Municipal League conference has been gathering for 69 years. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering local Alaskan governments to influence state and federal decision-making that impacts our communities. This year’s conference slogan was “working together, making a difference” which I assume was in reaction to last year’s tumultuous state legislative session. As attendees, we had the opportunity to choose various sessions and listen to specific topics that are prevalent throughout Alaskan communities. I attended sessions on: ground water contamination, housing and homelessness, funding the Alaska Marine Highway System, and promoting public safety. The groundwater contamination session gave an in-depth look at two contaminates (PFOA’s and PFO’s) which are commonly found in spray foam for firefighting. These substances were recently designated as toxic chemicals and banned from being made within the US. However, many airport fire departments still use this spray foam, which has contaminated whole water systems in certain Alaskan communities. Luckily, our airport is isolated on a separate island away from our drinking water source.
The session on housing and homelessness was conducted by Anchorage public officials and gave a breakdown of their homeless problems. I thought this topic was particularly important to Ketchikan, because even though we have two excellent local homeless shelters, people living on the street still lack access to mental health and substance abuse services. Anchorage discussed their approach to homelessness, which meant increasing social workers to coordinate with homeless and get them off the street into permanent long-term housing. The most impactful statements were that both the federal and state governments have failed to address homelessness as a national issue, which has put local municipalities and non-profits into action. Anchorage provided testimony that focusing on homelessness on the front end decreases the cost on the back end for our local hospitals, fire and EMS, police departments, and ultimately the taxpayer.
The Ferry talk was particularly heated but nonetheless very informative on the current state of the AMHS. Mostly coastal representatives who expressed that DOT officials lack communication with local governments and citizens on changing ferry schedules attended the session. This particular session was important for Ketchikan delegates to attend due to our community having ferry lay up facilities at Dunleavy’s crypt (Ward Cove) and a shipyard facility to build new boats. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say that ferries are important lifeblood to Ketchikan’s maritime jobs and economy.
To wrap up the conference, I made it a priority to attend a discussion on public safety and how to improve Fire/EMS services. This topic is especially important to Ketchikan, due to the ever-increasing strain the visitor industry puts on local emergency services. The best way to mitigate these challenges is to equip our emergency personnel with most modern and efficient technology in order to address new service needs. With tourism expanding into Ward Cove, Herring Cove, and Knudsen Cove it should be a priority of our local government’s to address these future issues by using CPV funds to help alleviate the burdensome impact of tourism on fire/EMS services.
Overall the conference was extremely helpful for networking with other southeast officials, communicating and collaborating on how to solve our community’s issues, and advocating on specific changes to the State that impact our local municipality. The main highlights were a presentation by our oil overlords at ExxonMobil pleading not to get rid of oil tax credits, how insignificant our problems are compared to rural Alaska native villages, and the importance of collaboration with other communities to advocate for maximum local self government. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Received December 02, 2019 - Published December 03, 2019
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