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Breakwater, dredging costs raise questions


Concerns about meeting the cost – including future maintenance – of a harbor expansion surfaced at the March 12 Haines Borough Assembly meeting, where members George Campbell and Debra Schnabel opposed $1.7 million for engineering services related to construction of a 700-foot, metal wave barrier.

The expenditure to PND Engineers, Inc. went ahead on a 4-2 vote.

Also at the meeting, the assembly passed a motion “to request very strongly of staff” to come up with operational costs and revenue for the planned expansion.

The wave barrier and associated dredging are estimated to cost $25 million. The borough has $18 million on hand for the work. The cost of other planned improvements – including a $6.5 million drive-down float, floats for additional boat slips, expanded parking and a two-land boat launch ramp on the harbor’s south end – would be additional to the $25 million.

“I’m worried about us building a facility that in 10 years we can’t afford to maintain,” Campbell said. “We need a rough estimate of the costs and benefits. We don’t have any clue on that. I got an email from staff that it wouldn’t cost more manpower. How are you going to add 30 percent surface area to your docks without more manpower? That’s unreasonable.”

Campbell said he didn’t worry about an expanded harbor filling up, saying he was told the borough had a long waiting list for slips. “I’m concerned that we’re going to build something that costs us $1.5 million a year and the income on it is $1 million.”

Campbell said he wanted more information before voting on the $1.7 million design.

Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said her understanding is that adding slips creates economies of scale and helps defray fixed costs. “The general assumption is, the smaller the harbor, the harder it is to pay for fixed costs… My assumption is (that) making the harbor bigger will help to make it more affordable to the users.”

Member Jerry Lapp supported the expenditure. “We’ve been working on this harbor (expansion) for I can’t remember how long,” including making lobbying trips to Washington, D.C. “I don’t see holding it up any longer.”

Campbell said the assembly should have seen cost-benefit ratios for two alternatives before choosing the more expensive one. Schnabel said her vote against the design was based on her opposition to the assembly’s decision in February to pursue the more expensive of two harbor designs.

A $20 million option passed over by the assembly would have involved a shorter breakwater and extending existing floats instead of building a separate set of floats south of the existing ones.

After passage of the expenditure, member Dave Berry requested the estimate of operation costs and revenues. Berry said he wasn’t looking for a cost analysis, “but something rather simple.” “I’m just asking if (staff) have any idea what the potential additional costs would be and the potential extra revenue.”

Later in the meeting, fiscal officer Stuart reminded assembly members they didn’t have money to complete the project.

“We design things all the time that we don’t have money to build yet. That’s what we do. We design it. Then we go looking for the money and apply for grants. I just wanted to say you guys know you need to go find $7 million to build it,” Stuart said.

Responded Mayor Stephanie Scott: “We do know we’re short. We’ll probably need more money than ($7 million) and we’re going to find it.”

Scott also supported the $1.7 million appropriation, saying “you couldn’t find a better advisory group than the ports and harbors advisory committee. Those men and women have worked so hard on this, meeting with engineers, asking questions, sweating blood. They are not setting us up for failure.”

The $1.7 million would pay for “wave barrier geotechnical investigation, environmental dredge investigation, a state and federal environmental permitting and compensatory mitigation plan, and final design through bid phase services for the wave barrier, dredging, gravel parking lot and sewer line relocation,” according to the resolution.