September 19, 2012 | Vol. 24 Edition 38

Ski hill getting $264,000 in improvements

Council approves expenditure despite reservations

The Salmonberry Ski Hill will receive an addition $264,820 worth of terrain improvements before the snow flies after city administration convinced the Valdez City Council that more earthwork and other improvements were needed on the fledgling project.

Valdez Star file photo
The Salmonberry Ski Hill towrope opened to the public last February. City officials now say the slope needs expensive excavating to remain a safe place to ski.

With winter just around the corner, council members questioned why city administration was asking for budget approval this late in the game.

Todd Wegner, assistant city manager who was formerly head of the city’s parks and recreation department said the city needed numerous permits to proceed with project, including a wetland delineation and other approvals by the State of Alaska and the Army Corp of Engineers.

“It took us a month, month and a half,” to wade through much of the process Wegner said during Monday night’s regular council meeting.

City manager John Hozey told council the additional earthworks will eliminate hazards in the uneven slope along the towline’s path and bring other aspects of the project up to code. The heat shack at the bottom of the hill needs to be placed on a permanent foundation, for instance.

“We’re out of compliance there,” Todd said.

In the agenda statement to council, Wegner gave a synopsis of the projects development.

“Construction of the Salmonberry Ski Hill recreation facility began last year, and was unable to be completed due to timing, unanticipated conditions, and funding,” the statement said. “With this contract the facility will see great improvement. The hill currently has a variety of existing terrain issues that inhibit user safety and increases difficulty for grooming equipment. Last year these issues were mitigated to some degree by a greater than average snowfall."

Others questioned how a project that was originally slated to cost less than $80,000 and was later budgeted at over $98,000, with an emergency cash infusion of $125,000 approved on top of that, now needed over a quarter of a million dollars in additional funding.

Chris Moulton, a member of the loose knit Snow Authority, the group that originally asked the city to reopen the hill to a skiing towrope, noted the city project included many features the group did not actually ask for.

“All that was not in the original plan,” he said. “It always hurts to see these costs.”

The council later voted 6-1 to approve the contract with Harris Sand & Gravel.

“This is a long term investment,” council member Mike Wells said.

The agenda statement says the scope to be managed in this contract includes: Improvements such as a widening of the main tow rope path, ‘leveling’ out the adjoining areas, and general grading, installing an extension to the top bullwheel, with additional concrete work managing existing drainage, ditches, berms, and cuts and other needed improvements.

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