Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Harbor design under scrutiny

Engineer: Plan could create 'confused seas'


An independent engineer reviewing the design of the Small Boat Harbor expansion says work done to date by PND Engineers is “thorough and well done,” but says the municipality should consider moving the planned entrance.

The change would add about $1 million to the estimated $30 million cost of the project, according to PND, the company leading the project.

The Haines Borough Planning Commission requested an independent review of the harbor project by a state engineer in September, when the body considered the 95-percent design documents. Critics of the project had voiced navigational and safety concerns about the entrance’s proximity to the Port Chilkoot Dock.

A preliminary draft by Department of Transportation statewide coastal engineer Harvey Smith agreed that a partially-penetrating wave barrier “may be the best choice based on the local wave climate, soils and other site conditions,” but suggested the entrance be moved from the southern opening near the beach to between the planned wave barrier and existing rubble-mound breakwater.

Interim borough manager Brad Ryan said this week that the municipality would wait for Smith’s final report and a review of the borough’s plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before making any changes to existing plans.

“We’re waiting for what the Corps of Engineers has to say. They have their own engineers looking at it,” Ryan said.

Planning Commission member Rob Miller presented the report to the commission last week. Miller explained Smith’s problems with the current designed entrance, which have to do with wave energy reflected off the barrier combining with other wave energy in bad weather to create a dangerous spot.

“He’s a little worried we’re creating a turbulent area out in front of the entrance,” Miller said.

Ryan said at the commission meeting the Army Corps of Engineers had a similar concern about a “perfect storm” happening at the harbor entrance during exceptionally bad weather, but for the most part the Corps thought the present design would be okay.

Critics of the harbor design used Smith’s preliminary report as an “I told you so” moment, saying they expressed concerns about the placement of the wave barrier months ago.

“Too bad most local comments from the public, no matter how highly credentialed, were treated by the borough as unsubstantial and ‘confused’ opinions with little merit,” resident Dave Nanney wrote in an email to borough officials. “This has caused a ‘them and us’ schism in trust between the public and the borough that may only be healed by a few more changes in borough personnel and policy.”

Nanney also expressed concern about the release of the report, which was sent by Smith to former manager David Sosa on Dec. 4. The report didn’t come to some planning commissioners and assembly members until last week.

However, it was sent to Mayor Jan Hill, chair of the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee chair Norman Hughes and Planning Commission chair Rob Goldberg at the beginning of December. It was also publicly discussed at the Dec. 17 Port and Harbor Advisory Committee meeting.

“There was no attempt to suppress this report,” Ryan said.

“This report is still labeled preliminary and the borough staff has been waiting on a final version of the report so that they could respond to the final revision,” Ryan added.

Smith’s final report will include a concept sketch for a central entrance and inner harbor configuration.

Smith’s preliminary report noted the designed entrance’s proximity to the cruise ship dock. “Situating the main entrance away from the cruise ship dock would be beneficial for both security and safety. As proposed, it appears the traffic coming and going from Lynn Canal will be channeled very close to the cruise ship dock,” Smith wrote.

Harbormaster Shawn Bell said the Coast Guard was contacted about the question, but no obvious concerns were identified. “We have recently contacted the USCG’s David Seris from Aids and Navigation to again confirm that there are no deal breakers with our plan,” Bell said.

Bell pointed out that Smith’s report is based off the 700-foot wave barrier design, though the most recent plan includes a cost-saving 600-foot wave barrier with an alternative of an additional 33-feet.

Bell said he still thinks it is appropriate for the independent review to look at the 700-foot barrier, because that is the design the borough is permitting for.

“With a shorter wave barrier we have widened the gap between the Port Chilkoot Dock and the proposed wave barrier, further alleviating navigational and safety concerns,” Bell said.

Smith’s report also cites a possible concern with interlocking the metal wave barrier with the south end of the rubble mound. “Rock structures get their strength from interlocking between adjacent stones. Rocks would not interlock well with the smooth, flat surface of sheet pile.”

Unfortunately, even if the borough decided to move the entrance to between the wave barrier and rubble mound, that wouldn’t alleviate the need for an Army Corps of Engineers 408 permit, required whenever a project impacts an existing Corps structure.

The 408 permit threw a wrench into the harbor project’s progress last fall when officials realized it might take them a year to get the permit.

Interim manager Ryan said the Corps confirmed the borough would still need a 408 permit if it moved the entrance because the wave reflection would still affect the rubble mound.

Ryan said the borough recently received good news on the 408 permit. “They are saying that we are not going to need additional studies, we hope, and we may even be in line to see this permit by April. We’re pushing for a faster deadline than that.”

The Port and Harbor Advisory Committee recently passed a motion asking the assembly to budget funds for lobbying of federal officials for the harbor expansion.

“We just feel like we need to keep this moving along,” said committee chair Hughes. “And we encourage the borough assembly to keep the borough administration moving on this and working on it, and don’t be shy about spending funds if you need to hire a hired gun or spend some more staff time or send someone up to Anchorage and talk to the Army Corps personnel that are overseeing these permitting requirements.”


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