May 3, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 18

Changes are cooking at the harbor

Haines Borough Harbormaster Phil Benner and his staff are hosting a customer appreciation barbecue on Wednesday, May 16, and will share plans for facilities.

“We’ll do it every year,” Benner said. “You get to interact differently with people when you’re eating with them, and also to show the projects that we got funded, as long as the governor signs the budget.”

The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the harbormaster’s office. Guests can view plans for improvements to the Port Chilkoot Dock, Letnikof Dock and Small Boat Harbor. Italian sausage, hamburgers, salad, chips and drinks will be served.

“The docks and harbor personnel are paying for that out of their own money,” Benner said. “There will be no borough money spent on food or drinks.”

The Haines Borough Assembly last week approved Benner’s hire as harbormaster. He had filled the role on an interim basis following the April 1 departure of Ed Barrett. Benner was harbormaster in Haines from January 2007 to March 2009.

In an interview with the Chilkat Valley News this week, Benner outlined some of his goals as harbormaster, including the borough earning certification as an Alaska Clean Harbor. He also has posted the harbor waitlist and issued impoundment notices.

“The waitlist is going to go public and be online,” Benner said. “The waitlist will be on the Haines Borough website and it will be a 100 percent transparent document. You will always know where you stand on the waitlist by going on the website or coming in to get a copy in the harbormaster’s office.”

He said the wait depends on the vessel’s size. For example, the owner of a vessel less than 30 feet in length can expect a two- to five-year wait for a space, Benner said.

As of Monday, Benner had issued eight impoundment notices for overdue bills, and two of those owners paid up. Notices are mailed to owners, and posted on the vessel and at the borough office, harbormaster’s office and post office.

“The ones that are posted for a 30-day impound notice are people that are behind in payments, greater than 150 days,” Benner said. “Some of them are years behind.”

He said harbor users owe the borough more than $30,000. In addition, Benner said three sailboats would require a Coast Guard inspection and a marine survey before sailing again.

“Those are vessels that have not moved in over a year, and most of them have not moved since I was last here,” he said. “They’re not authorized to be in the harbor due to not being used for the stated purpose of the harbor, which is navigation. The harbor is not a boat storage area.”

Benner is working toward an Alaska Clean Harbors certification. Homer and Seward were the first two communities to earn the designation.

“My goal is to make Haines harbor and the port facility the first certified clean marine facility in Southeast Alaska,” Benner said. “Every other state that is on the ocean – Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, California and all down the East Coast – has what they call a clean marina program, and the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators has been working with various groups to come up with a checklist to make Alaska harbors in line with every other harbor on the West Coast.”

The Alaska Clean Harbors website includes a checklist with goals for harbor management of liquid chemical and hazardous waste, petroleum product, stormwater, solid waste and vessel operation; plus the harbor’s boat cleaning and hull maintenance, and sewage and pumpout facility operation.

Benner said he thinks the borough can meet the requirements in about a year, at a cost of less than $10,000. He explained two of the first steps.

“We will stick barrels down on a grid to allow boat owners to throw their zincs into those barrels rather than just throwing them down,” Benner said. “We also will be laying a tarp down for anyone that is doing heavy washing or painting, things like that, that can be picked up and then put away, so it doesn’t get in the water once the tide comes in.”

He said becoming an Alaska Clean Harbor would make the municipality more competitive for state, federal and grant funding.

“What we’re doing and working on right now is multiple strands of recycling, whether it’s batteries, used oil, used antifreeze,” Benner said. “Anything that the harbor produces, we’re going to work at clean and effective ways of getting rid of that.”