The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

$1 million price for land okayed by council but still not a done deal

A new fire station and control of existing snow dump drives the need


A new fire station moved an inch closer to reality last week when the Valdez City Council gave a reluctant thumbs up to proceed with a $1 million land purchase - but it is still far from a done deal.

Council members voted 4-2 in favor of directing city manager Elke Doom to proceed with negotiations for nearly 15 acres of land boosters say is needed to build a new fire station and to keep existing snow storage.

The move came last week during the city council's first July meeting.

The vote merely authorizes Doom to bring a contract to council for approval before it is signed and a check is cut to pay for it.

Council members Jim Shirrell and Chris Moulton voted against proceeding with the sale. Council member Dennis Fleming was absent.

Discussions on moving forward with the sale were heated at times.

Shirrell expressed displeasure and called it a "rude surprise" when he learned that the land purchase did not require a super-majority vote to proceed.

In previous work sessions and council meetings regarding purchasing the property, which is located between the Alaska Dept. of Transportation facility on the Richardson Highway and Eagles Rest RV Park, council members acted under the assumption that in order to purchase the property, the council vote would require a super-majority - six out of seven votes - to pass.

This is because the current property owners were asking $1.3 million for the tract, but the appraised value of the land is $975,000. Doom has told council the sellers refuse to sell it for less than $1 million.

The city's code requires a super-majority vote to sell city land under appraised value, and in the past has applied the principle to purchasing land, which is not actually a requirement in the city code according the Sheri Pierce, the city clerk.

"It does not speak to the city purchasing property," Pierce said.

Moulton and Shirrell both said they support the concept of building a new fire station, but feel it could be located on land already owned by the city.

Last year, then fire chief George Keeney came to council with data showing dangerous black molds growing in some parts of the fire station, which is located in the older section of city hall. Several portions of the building had been sealed off from use to stop exposure to the dangerous molds.

Source: City of Valdez

This map shows an approximate outline of the land the City of Valdez is looking to purchase as a location for a new fire station.

It was then that city officials began looking for an alternate location for a fire station.

At the same time, numerous department heads addressed council with concerns regarding over-crowding in city hall, which eventually led to the city's finance department moving its operations to vacant office space at the airport.

Elected officials and city administrators mainly agreed that a new standalone fire station was needed, and further study would follow as to whether or not the mold should be remediated or the old section of city hall razed and replaced.

In the meantime, air quality testing in city hall has been conducted to ensure it is a safe indoor environment.

"We have environmental coming in quarterly," Knight said, adding that the last two air quality tests came back "good."


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