Assembly OKs breakwater addition


The Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday reversed an earlier vote and approved adding a 33-foot-long segment of steel breakwater barrier that fishermen and harbor officials called a critical piece of the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion project.

But assembly members also made a concession to concerns the project deserved equal funding to ensure the aesthetics of the final product.

The assembly voted to approve $420,407 to add another 33 feet to the project’s planned addition of 600 feet of steel breakwater. When they approved Phase 1 of the expansion in November, assembly members voted down the “add alternate” to the project, but the Ports and Harbor Advisory Committee later voted to request that they revisit that decision.

In the month between the two votes, however, borough facilities director Brad Ryan told the assembly, the cost of the wall section rose $35,000 from $385,000 due to such factors as rising steel prices.

Assembly member Heather Lende argued that $420,407, the amount earmarked for the wall addition, should also be earmarked for aesthetics along the harbor. She made a successful motion to draft a resolution for the assembly’s January meeting to discuss the issue.

Money for both expenditures became available after the borough found itself with additional funds for the estimated $34 million harbor expansion project. The costs for the first phase came in under budget – effectively meaning that $1.9 million of the $19.5 million in state money allocated for the first phase is available for other work.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg agreed with Lende.

“It’s very important that this harbor be as beautiful and as much of an attraction as we can make it,” he said. “And we need to find the money to make that happen.”

Assembly member Mike Case said the breakwater barrier was critical for safety. “We have to do this – it’s now or never to get it done. It’s a safety issue,” he said of approving the 33-foot extension. “We can always find money somewhere for aesthetics. But we may never find the money to add on to that wall if we don’t do it now.”

Lende said she would like to see equal money spent on beautification. “We could spend an equal amount [on aesthetics] and still have money in the bank,” she said. “That would be an honorable compromise.”

The controversial harbor project has divided residents, many of whom believe it is too costly and benefits only area fishermen and the minority of people here who own boats. Others say there has already been enough citizen scrutiny and the project should move forward.

On Tuesday, the borough assembly voted on a number of other issues related to the harbor expansion, including whether to hear for a second time an appeal filed by Haines resident Paul Nelson that the harbor approval process has not followed the law.

Nelson told the assembly that the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion project should have never received a land-use permit.

In October, Nelson was one of three Haines residents to challenge borough manager Bill Seward’s decision to issue the permit for the project’s first phase without also receiving a land-use permit. The Planning Commission had previously recommended the permit be issued.

Nelson claimed noncompliance with borough code, arguing the project was improperly given a land-use permit when it required a conditional use permit.

Nelson said borough code stipulates that any project that affects the entire borough requires a conditional use permit. “This harbor project is the biggest thing this borough has ever done,” he said in an interview prior to the meeting. “It affects everyone.”

He added that the borough government is “supposed to follow their own laws. They’re not.”

“Our coastal management plan was not followed,” he told the assembly. “The comprehensive plan was not followed.”

Assembly member Case disagreed. “The state dissolved its coastal management plan and ours relied entirely on theirs,” he said. “There’s nothing there to consider.”

Assembly member Tom Morphet, who owns the Chilkat Valley News, said he wanted to hear Nelson’s argument in making the appeal, saying he was in “favor of hearing the public out.”

The assembly voted 3-2 against hearing Nelson’s appeal.

The assembly also approved by a 5-1 vote to award an $873,000 contract to project designers PND Engineers to inspect the harbor expansion construction work done by Pacific Pile & Marine.

Morphet suggested it would make more sense to hire a neutral inspector.

Borough manager Seward said that PND Engineers had a “superb” reputation in Alaska. “I’d be surprised that they would want to jeopardize that reputation,” he said.

Assembly member Case questioned the cost of a third-party inspector. “When you don’t have much money you have to have the engineer inspect the contractor’s work.”

Added assembly member Ron Jackson: “Who better to overlook the job than those who designed it.”

In another harbor matter, the assembly voted 4-2 to enter into a cooperative agreement in which the Alaska Department of Fish and Game would contribute $500,000 toward a $4.6 million two-lane boat launch ramp that includes boarding float and upland parking improvements.

The agency’s money would be spent on the design of the project. Under the agreement, once the borough approved the design, it would then be responsible to manage and maintain the facility for 20 years.

Borough facility manager Ryan told the assembly that if the borough did not like the design, “we’re not on the hook.”

He added: “There is a 20-year agreement only if we go through the construction phase. This is our opportunity to work with Fish and Game and build a relationship.”


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