SS Nenana Takes Big Part At CIP Hearing

Jan 20, 2020

Credit William S. Hanable / National Park Service

More than 50 people signed up to comment on the borough’s Capital Improvement Plan in a public hearing last Thursday, Jan. 16. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly listened to more than three hours of public testimony to prioritize how maintenance and repair money should be spent, in a process that still has a long way to go. A lot of comments asked to preserve the sternwheeler in the Borough’s historical Pioneer Park.

Different interest groups activated their networks to bring supporters to the chambers. They testified about skateparks, swimming pools, historical places, school roofs, ice rinks, libraries and trails.

The Capital Improvement Plan or CIP, is still shaping up. But this phase belongs to the Assembly. The resolution 2019-43 has 67 projects on the list. That may change as Assembly members replace or consolidate them.

By far the issue that attracted the most live testimony was the SS Nenana. Some of that was due to a separate resolution to turn over work on the boat to the volunteer group “Friends of the SS Nenana.” That resolution quickly passed the Assembly unanimously. The Sternwheeler, built in 1935, has been part of Pioneer Park since it opened as the A-67 Centennial exhibition 52 years ago.

But three separate proposals about the Nenana were nominated for the CIP: to cover the boat with a large roof, to gather up the pieces of the historical diorama that’s currently in the boat and put the pieces in storage, and finally, to cut off the sternwheel to preserve it for display, while demolishing the rest of the boat. Those proposals attracted a lot of comment.

“I just want to impress on the assembly the importance of the riverboat Nenana, as a whole unit, not sliced and diced.” -Ray Bonnell

“And of course, the queen of the park is the SS Nenana. The diorama that’s in the hull of the boat, is the history. That’s the story of the boat -- it should not be taken out and put somewhere else.” - Richie Musick

“Salvage will kill the Nenana. It would lose any chance to generate further revenue if it was chopped into pieces.” - Arlene Slocum

“I think someone suggested scrapping it or tearing it down just to get the community to show up here, because it surely worked.” - Matthew Sampson

“When you stand next to that boat, it’s majestic. It needs to be fixed, no matter how long it takes. This boat is a treasure.” - Meredith Coates

The next phase in the plan is analysis by the borough’s technical team, who will score each project and order them, based on each facility’s current condition and how much future use is required.

There is about $26 million dollars in the 2020 Facilities Maintenance Reserve Fund. That FMR money will likely be consumed by the projects that get to the top of list.

Several citizens asked the KIP plan be split -- into maintenance that can be done right away, and a separate list of capital projects for which there is not enough money yet.

The Assembly started debate on the resolution but adjourned about 11:20 p.m. after calling a special meeting for next Thursday evening, to begin after the Finance Committee meeting.