The three candidates for Haines Borough Assembly talked about their priorities at a KHNS forum Thursday. Jerry Lapp, Margaret Friedenauer and Tresham Gregg are running for two open seats on the assembly.
When the candidates were asked about their ideal vision of Haines in 10 years, each focused on how the economy could be sustained or improved. Jerry Lapp said he wants to see Haines have more winter employment.
“You’ll see that people are struggling during the winter time,” he said. “We have great summers, we’ve got the tourists coming in, the tour ships and stuff. But we need to fill something in in that winter time. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it would be, but we need something that’s year round.”
Tresham Gregg said he’d like to see more special events – something he says Haines does well, with things like the Kluane Bike Race and Beer Festival.
“I would like to see groups of people coming into Haines that are targeted groups that are coming in for reasons that we make,” Gregg said. “Maybe it’s a healing arts festival or something kind of outdoor arts combined with culture.”
Margaret Friedenauer said Haines should focus on sustaining the major industries of fishing and tourism.
“And I think to make sure that nurture those and keep those going and sustainable. I’m not sure a small town like Haines can survive a boom-bust industry,” Friedenauer said. “And so we need a sustainable economy over the long-haul. And I think fishing and tourism and in some ways resource development have panned out to show those are the most steady.”
Friedenauer said she didn’t necessarily support the cruise ship waiver incentive, in which the borough discounts docking fees for new cruise ships that come to Haines. The borough assembly approved that incentive this year.
“I don’t think we should give it away,” she said. “We shouldn’t give our community away and I feel like maybe we did that with waiving the docking fees. I think cruise ships are gonna come here, to come here, because of what we already have.”
All three candidates said they supported expanding Haines’ cruise ship industry, to a degree. Lapp said he wouldn’t want as many cruise ships in Haines as there are in Skagway. Gregg said there’s a balance between the number of ships and the infrastructure Haines has for tourists.
The candidates also got into some of the more controversial projects that are up for debate right now. In recent months, some Haines residents have asked for the small boat harbor expansion plan to be looked at with a more critical eye. Gregg is one of the people who has spoken out at public meetings against the current harbor design.
“I would recommend that we step back and take a second look at it, especially concerning the financial picture,” he said. “I fail to see how a big steel wall and a big flat parking lot is much of an attraction. So what can we do to transform that into an attraction?”
Supporters of the expansion say the project has been in the works for a long time, and they don’t want progress slowed down.
“Every time that we keep delaying something and delaying something, it costs money,” Lapp said. “If we delayed the harbor for another year, it’s gonna cost another million dollars.”
Friedenauer said she supports the harbor expansion, but the fact that it’s drawn such an outcry from some residents makes her think there should be a compromise.
“I don’t think anybody should be digging in their heels at this time, because it’s causing a lot of discord, and a lot of controversy and a lot of unnecessary almost heartache for some people,” she said. “I see some people get so passionate about this. And I feel myself get passionate about it too. I want to stay here, and fishing is the main source of income for my family.”
Government transparency and improved public process was something all three candidates supported. Friedenauer said her experience as a reporter made her feel strongly about that.
“I don’t think democracy or this form of government is efficient,” she said. “And I think it takes a lot of patience from government officials. But speaking as a former journalist, the way we viewed it is everything is considered public unless it falls under as exemption.”
Lapp said he was in favor of the borough assembly using executive session as minimally as possible.
“You try not to have executive session,” he said. “That’s one thing I don’t like. There are some times that I think you could get along without those executive session. Because then people think you’re doing things behind closed doors. And I don’t like that.”
Gregg has advocated for more public inclusion in the borough assembly process before, and he reiterated that at the forum.
“We need to be more respectful of everybody’s presentations at meetings, and maybe less of a distinction between the people up there in the big chairs and the people in the little chairs,” Gregg said. “So that we’re all feeling as though we belong there and that we’re wanted to be there and that whatever we say is gonna be respected.”
The candidates also responded to a question about how their work affiliations could affect their decision making as assembly members. Gregg is an artist and business owner who relies on tourism, Friedenauer works for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and Lapp works part-time for Constantine Metal Resources.
To hear their answers to that question and more, listen to the full forum here below. The municipal election is Tuesday, October 6th.