August 25, 2011 |

Borough gets funds to buy Picture Point; Federal road agency gives $500K

The Haines Borough has been awarded $495,840 in federal money for the acquisition of Picture Point.

The U.S. Department of Transportation listed about $7 million in grants for Alaska projects in a news release last week. Money for acquisition of what the agency described as the "world-famous Picture Point" will come from a National Scenic Byways Program grant through the Federal Highway Administration. Haines was eligible for the grant due to the Haines Highway’s National Scenic Byway status.

The borough is set to acquire three acres of a five-acre waterfront strip Texas-based car dealer Roger Beasley purchased last October. The borough property would include two scenic pullouts there.

Borough manager Mark Earnest and Mayor Jan Hill said letters of support from U.S. senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young bolstered the Haines grant application. Former borough staffer Debra Schnabel was the grant writer.

In his report for Tuesday’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting, Earnest wrote that an appraisal and environmental site assessment would be two of the steps in acquisition of Picture Point. Site improvements would follow in the second phase, which has yet to be approved by the assembly.

Earnest said the borough would allocate $125,000 as a local match for the grant, with money drawn from economic development and cruise ship head tax funds. The assembly on Tuesday approved the borough’s $125,000 allocation as a budget amendment.

"It is standard that a grant will require matching funds," Mayor Hill said. "I think that, yes, $125,000 is certainly a lot of money, but we’re leveraging three times that much by doing it. When we get into phase two of this project, hopefully we’ll be just as successful getting outside funding for that, too."

Earnest wrote the completed site likely would "cost between $2 million and $2.5 million and would be funded over a period of years."

"The project is expected to eventually include parking, signage, restroom and picnic facilities, walking pathway along the waterfront or existing roadway where constraints exist to the (Port Chilkoot Dock) and downtown, tide pool and water access and viewing platforms, and interpretative displays and signage," Earnest wrote.

Nationwide, Federal Highway Administration grants were highly competitive, with communities vying for funds from 14 different programs. The overall tally was "more than 1,800 applications, totaling nearly $13 billion, which is more than 30 times the funds available," the news release said. Grant recipients can be viewed at www.fhwa.dot.gov/pressroom/fhwa1137.

"There are a lot of communities in Alaska that are recipients of these funds, and I’m just happy that Haines was one of them," said real estate agent Jim Studley, who represents the current Picture Point owner, Beasley.

According to the award notice, the borough’s acquisition of Picture Point "is critical to reducing the impact of development in the byway corridor, preserving the byway traveler’s access to a scenic lookout wayside, and securing a prime location for the byway Gateway facility identified in the corridor management plan."

The assembly has met in several executive sessions to discuss Picture Point, and members ranked a request of $500,000 for the negotiated land acquisition of Picture Point as the third item on their list of 2011 federal legislative priorities, following boat harbor improvements and the Lutak port facility master plan. A decision on the purchase stalled as the borough waited for word on the grant application.

"We will certainly look at some creative financing ways, because of some of the concerns that have been expressed," Hill said of potential Picture Point site improvements. "There are people who want us to do this no matter what, there are people who want us to do it but not spend 100 percent of borough monies on it, and there are people who don’t want us to do it at all."

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, members made no comments about receipt of the money, which became known late last week. Assembly candidate Jerry Erny, who previously characterized federal funding of the site as "pork," also did not comment.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Erny said he still opposes borough ownership of Picture Point.

"It’s just hard for me to believe that, in the state of today’s economic situation all over our country, that we’re willing to spend money on such a project," he said. "In addition to that, I think the property is overpriced, which is going to affect every property owner along that entire corridor, all the way to Canal Marine."

Fred Shields, a former borough Mayor who advocated for a waterfront walk between the cruise ship dock and the scenic pullout, and spoke out for saving the point, hailed the development.

"Municipal ownership of recreational land and beautiful parks and a point where every tourist wants to come and take a picture of Haines is the right thing," Shields said.