Bell replaces Benner as head of harbor department

 


Shawn Bell is the Haines Borough’s new harbormaster.

Bell, 31, was appointed assistant harbormaster in April 2014. He grew up in Colorado and previously worked as a general contractor in Grand Junction, Colo. An Air Force veteran, Bell was born in Kasilof and said he’d wanted to come back to Alaska.

“Family here informed me of the (assistant harbormaster) opening and things fell together just right,” Bell said. He said he had no misgivings about taking the job that sometimes involves angry confrontations with boat owners.

“I haven’t had any in-your-face issues. It takes me a bit to get riled up. I haven’t really feared that or stressed over that,” Bell said. He said he understands the stress that comes in summer when commercial fishermen are trying to make money and recreational users are trying to make the most of their vacations.

Bell will be paid $65,000. He’ll get to hire a full-time assistant to fill the position he’s leaving. He also supervises three seasonal harbor assistants.

Besides the Small Boat Harbor, the harbormaster’s office is responsible for managing facilities at Lutak Dock, Port Chilkoot Dock and Letnikof Dock. The harbor department’s tasks include taking slip payments, invoicing cruise ships and freight barges, and helping draw up special use agreements for Port Chilkoot’s lightering float.


“There’s a lot of administrative work involved. You’ve got to run from facility to facility,” Bell said.

Bell said he doesn’t foresee making any changes to how the harbor was managed by former harbormaster Phil Benner. “I tried to get as much information from him as I could before he left… My main priority is just trying to maintain what we have as best we can.”

Bell’s pay agreement with the borough includes an assumed 330 hours of overtime work per year. His harbor cell phone number is 314-0173.

“I’m not going to jump out of bed to hook up power at 2 a.m. just because somebody wants me to, but if there’s something that demands my attention, I need to be available,” Bell said.

Manager David Sosa, who hired Bell, said he has an “exceptionally sound moral and ethical base.”

As Bell’s harbor experience is limited, he’ll need to develop his knowledge, Sosa said. “To this end, he has made a commitment to pursue professional development to include completion of the University of Alaska Southeast Career Training for Ports and Marinas.”


Bell said he applied for the department head job because he has enjoyed his work at the harbor to date. “It’s great to be on the water every day. I have a beautiful view out of my office, and the job has a lot of variety to it.”

Bell said he appreciated all the support he and his family have received from the borough. “The borough staff has been instrumental in helping me. I can’t think of a person there who hasn’t helped me.”

In an interview before leaving town, departing harbormaster Phil Benner said the job here is more challenging than leading harbors in places like Kodiak and Juneau, where he also worked. Benner worked in Haines from 2007-09 and 2012-2015.

In Haines, a harbormaster might have to plow snow off floats and, on the same day, respond to a sunken vessel, he said. “Here you’re expected to know it all and do it all and be a jack of all trades.”

Benner said when he started on the job here he was surprised at the level of abuse some boat owners showed toward harbor staff. One customer even threatened his family, he said.“Thankfully, the ports and harbor committee and the assembly got behind some action to stop that” including giving Benner authority to evict boat owners. He evicted two.

“I think (people) know that that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated and there are repercussions if that happens,” Benner said.

Benner said he supported the harbor expansion project, which he said was necessary. He said he believed that income from additional slips would help the harbor meet its operating costs.

“You’ll fill it. We have boats on the wait list to fill it now,” he said.

Benner said he didn’t trust engineers’ projections about the longevity of a planned metal breakwater there. He said he called around to similar facilities in other ports and found they’re holding up well. “I think you’ll see if we keep it properly maintained, it will last longer than 50 years.”


Benner said development of a boatyard at Lutak Dock could help that facility come closer to meeting maintenance costs. “We have the ability at Lutak to develop more land and obtain more land. We could really bring some economic growth to the community.”

He said the former Chilkat Cruises dock could be developed as a summer yacht and small cruise ship facility.

 
 

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