A PWS borough? City chips in for economic analysis

Borough feasibility study kick-off meeting set for September 20

Councilmember Anne Schaefer listens to Krystal Hoke from the Girdwood Governance Association, an unincorporated civic community group, as Hoke discusses a potential economic analysis of a Prince William Sound borough during the councilÕs work session at the Cordova Center on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

City Council members voted 4-2 on Sept. 5 to contribute $25,000 towards an economic analysis of a Prince William Sound borough, at this time including Girdwood, Cordova and Whittier.

Girdwood Governance Association, an unincorporated civic community group based in Girdwood, put out a request for proposals to five economic firms in Alaska and received three viable proposals, said GGA representative Krystal Hoke. Information Insights was ultimately selected to complete the feasibility report, estimated to cost $54,000.

Whittier’s financial contribution of $9,000 towards the analysis was contingent on Cordova’s participation, said Hoke.

GGA originally requested a $20,000 contribution from Cordova, but after Valdez showed no interest, Cordova’s contribution was raised to $25,000.

Girdwood will contribute $20,000 towards the analysis and, according to GGA, will cover the overhead of contract and project management.

GGA launched a community outreach survey in Girdwood on July 4 to gauge community support regarding borough formation, potential benefits, and Girdwood annexing history.

As of Sept. 2, GGA reported 47 percent of the 357 participants in the survey supported the idea of an independently governed city of Girdwood, 22 percent did not support it and 31 percent were unsure.

“That’s why we need this economic study,” Hoke said. “We think that we’ll be able to sway a lot of that 31 percent that’s not sure if we’re able to show numbers that make sense.”

Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin talks with Krystal Hoke from the Girdwood Governance Association, an unincorporated civic community group, about a potential economic analysis of a Prince William Sound borough during the councilÕs work session at the Cordova Center on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Hoke reiterated the importance of potential autonomy for Girdwood, plus the collaboration efforts and benefits for Cordova and Whittier.

On a personal note, Hoke believes the creation of a PWS borough could increase recreational development to help bring revenue for Cordova beyond commercial fishing.

She said she hopes communities will get a greater economic return on taxes paid so money is able to stay within the borough, citing a potential borough tourism and recreation fund as an example.

“We really don’t know until it’s done, but there’s major potential to move forward and … have pools of money that were not available before,” Hoke said. “We pay a lot of money in taxes and we would like to see it used in our own town.”

Councilmember Jeff Guard questioned where the pools of money Hoke mentioned would come from, citing community weariness about sport fishing tourism.

Hoke listed potential tax revenue from parts of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that are not currently collected by Valdez, and the Tesoro gas station located in Girdwood.

“Ten cents on every gallon is given to the municipality (Anchorage) and we’re wondering, ‘How many millions of dollars is that?’,” she said. “We really would like to move forward … but we need the real solid numbers from the economic analysis to know if this is a good idea or not.”

Other concerns listed during the work session included tax revenue distribution, the potential of added government and regulations, and the geographical distance between potential borough communities.

“We rely on the Sound so much in this community … and there’s no local government out there; it’s the state,” said Councilmember Melina Meyer.

Information Insights will hold a PWS borough economic feasibility study kick-off meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Cordova Center community rooms. According to a statement from the City of Cordova, Information Insights will present on the scope of the project, borough options and services, and key drivers of a borough’s economic feasibility. Information Insights will then facilitate a discussion with meeting participants on areas of interest pertaining to borough formation, the city said.

(From left) City Manager Alan Lanning, and councilmembers Jeff Guard, James Burton, and Melina Meyer listen to comments during the city council meeting at the Cordova Center on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)
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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at emesner@thecordovatimes.com. Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.