Concerns about the Small Boat Harbor expansion project reflect serious flaws in the Haines Borough’s public review process.

This project has been bantered about for decades, but the first set of actual construction plans arrived just two months ago. It was only after a blown-up diagram and story were published in the CVN on Feb. 19 that the public became fully aware of the project’s uplands impacts.

When multiple people came forward with concerns, we’d have expected a full public hearing and discussion of concerns before more final plans were made.

For reasons still not clear, such a hearing didn’t happen even last week, when plans become two-thirds complete. A chance for public comment was offered at last week’s Ports and Harbors Advisory Committee, but there was no response to public testimony either from the committee or the assembly.

In addition, the borough has received about 15 letters of concern about the project -- including from the Haines Chamber of Commerce and from former Haines Borough Mayor Stephnanie Scott.

That’s a shaky way to start a $21.1 million project.

And it’s uncannily similar to what happened at the start of the Port Chilkoot Dock parking lot and restrooms project. The public wasn’t aware of the full scope of that $9 million project – including filling a section of Port Chilkoot’s beach – until the borough had nearly signed off on plans. When citizens stepped forward with concerns, borough leaders said they were too late.

In both instances, key details about these projects were not brought forward either by borough officials or by project advocates. They were learned by citizens taking a closer look.

When the borough gets ready to spend $10 million or $30 million, the onus of sleuthing out the details shouldn’t rest solely on citizens: It should be borne mostly by the representatives citizens elect or by staff hired to keep them informed.

Here’s one possible fix: Every time the borough goes to spend $500,000 or more of public money on a project, require that a detailed diagram of the project be published prominently in the community.

People have busy lives. They can’t be expected to pore over plans for projects, particularly if they have no reason to believe such projects affect them. It’s the borough’s responsibility to make its plans abundantly clear, particularly if local taxpayers are paying some or all of the bills.

- Tom Morphet


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