Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Many Projects On the Drawing Boards at Alaska Ports


May 1, 2019

A fishing vessel moves out of the harbor on the Homer Spit on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula into Kachemak Bay.

From Dutch Harbor to the Kenai Peninsula to Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska, it's tight times in the state's economy and more port projects are in the planning than construction stage in the spring months of 2019.

"Things are going to be tight for a while," said Wrangell Harbormaster Greg Meissner.

"We're tightening the belt, doing as much maintenance as we can. We'll get through this one."

Not that things are at a standstill in Wrangell, where a just-under $10 million project to put new floats in at Shoemaker Bay, about five miles down the road from the main harbor, began in September and is expected to be completed by July, Meissner said.

Wrangell's harbors have some 650 stalls, in three basins with six different float systems.

The old floats at Shoemaker Bay had been there since 1977, he said. The project is under contract to Tamico and Rock and Road, both Petersburg firms, using a matching grant of half city, half state funding, "and it's chugging along," he said.

Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason is working on a $12 million harbor rebuild project coming up in late fall, to replace the Crescent Harbor floats 1,2, 3 and 4. Funding for the project, including $5 million in state money, has already been appropriated, he said.

Juneau Harbormaster Dave Borg said his busy port is all caught up on major projects at this point. "This is the first season we don't have any construction going on, nothing hard," he said.

The north end of Juneau's Aurora Harbor is still a work in progress and being done in phases.

"We completed phase two last summer and we were anticipating working on phase three this fall, with some match money from the state, but the state has removed the municipal harbor grant money from the 2019 budget," he said. Port officials have asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to put off dredging the Aurora harbor this year, in hope that the municipal harbor grant money will be restored by 2020, "because it's easier to dredge when the old docks are out," Borg said.

At Kodiak, after five years of completing millions of dollars in infrastructure projects, nothing major is on the horizon, said Harbormaster Derrik Magnuson, although the port is looking at an initial project start-up with contracting a project manager and getting a scope of work to rebuild St. Herman Harbor. "It is our oldest harbor and six or seven years past its life expectancy, Magnuson said. "We would be looking at taking out and rebuilding all of the harbor, with the exception of the big boat section rebuilt in 2009 for boats up to 150 feet."

Still to be determined is whether to rebuild the harbor in phases or all at once, he said.

"If we did it in phases, we could possibly do it with money from the harbor account or with contributions from the general fund." The cost estimate is from $18-$24 million.

Over the past few years, Kodiak's harbormasters have already overseen replacement of Piers 1 and 3, the container terminal, the ferry terminal; the addition of a state-of-the-art container handler, a gantry crane that is all electric and more efficient in handling big container; and replacement of its 300 foot long channel transient float, for vessels not homeported there.

At the Port of Bristol Bay in Naknek, which is again bracing for a strong run of wild Alaska sockeye salmon, gravel surfacing is an ongoing effort, said interim Harbormaster Jeremy Kern.

A year ago plans were to have the entire port area fenced in from the highway to the river by the end of July, but that work has yet to be completed.

Port officials plan to have their new ice making machine up and running at the port in time for the start of the Bristol Bay fishery, and are also putting in security cameras this year all over the port, "It's a safety issue and a security issue, for the customers' cargo and everything," he said.

The rest of the port facilities are otherwise in good shape, in the wake of more than $20 million in upgrades within the past decade, he said.

In Nome, Port Director Joy Baker said work is continuing with the US Army Corps of Engineers on an eventual deep-water port.

"We are working with the corps on our modification feasibility study," Baker said.

The goal of the expanded deep-water port would be to provide adequate facilities for resupply and refueling for ships transiting the Arctic.

Once the study is completed, a chief of engineer's report will be done in draft form, and that draft feasibility study should be out for public review sometime in May or beyond, she said.

Then once comments come back and are addressed, that will result in a final draft for review, which must be signed by the chief of engineers in Washington, DC and go to Congress for authorization and funding, she said.

While the deep-water port has been years in the planning, Baker said she remains conservatively optimistic. "I'd say we are building a deep-water port within five to six years, she said. "That's just me being optimistic," said Baker, who has been with the port since 1997.

Smaller projects at the Nome port include making repairs to the concrete launch ramp and looking for funds to build a small vessel moorage facility in the Snake River to minimize overcrowding in the small boat harbor, she said.

A large vessel harbor is still in the works for Homer, said Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins.

"We are just looking at the draft report at this point," he said. "We shelved the first study because the cost was too high and benefits were too low. We estimated the cost of dredging and disposal of dredged materials. Those were major cost drivers," he said. After looking at the first study his team was able to revise some details. "We found there were better options, so it's looking good." Hawkins said they hoped to have a completed project plan by April 15 to present to the city council. "Ultimately our goal is to show it is beneficial for the city to resume the original general investigation and complete it, because we are confident our numbers will give us a project that will make us eligible to compete for federal funding plus state and local," he said. "They are long term projects.

"Our projects in Alaska, many of them compete quite well (for funding) because we are still developing," he said. "We are talking about building the next generation of harbors in Alaska. We have not kept up with the need."

The Port of Seward has completed repair of the north dock, at the Seward Marine Industrial Center harbor, where a 10-ton crane and fencing were added last year, to provide a secure port for offloading fish. That was all part of more than $25 million in infrastructure upgrades. The uplands storage area, which is 700 by 300 feet, is fenced in, and plans are to have the main working dock frontage at the north dock paved before June, said deputy harbormaster Matt Chase.

More paving is planned from the 300-ton Marine Travelift to the washdown pad, and a facility is being built to heat the pad for winter use, Chase said. The washdown pad is heated exclusively with used oil from the harbor, as are four of the city shops, saving the city $160,000 a year in fuel costs, Chase said.

At Unalaska-Dutch Harbor, Port Director Peggy McLaughlin said port officials in late March were just going through their list of capital projects with the Unalaska City Council, so that the council can determine which projects they will fund. What would happen with fish landing taxes, which are a big contributor to this municipality's income, was still undetermined in early April, with the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy still wrestling over whether Unalaska and all other coastal fishing communities would get their usual share, or whether all that money would wind up in the state's general fund budget, as proposed in the state budget plan Dunleavy delivered to legislators.

The port and harbor of Homer, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, where plans for a large vessel harbor are being revised to increase the odds to compete for federal, state and local funding. Port and Harbor of Homer photos by Brinster & Co.

The city council won't actually vote on the budget until May, McLaughlin said. The port's current wish list, as of the end of March, included a road realignment leading to major processing facilities at the port, plus mostly infrastructure projects, she said. The feasibility of a cruise ship terminal is also proposed, but remains to be seen, she said. The port is also actively involved in developing the Aleutian Islands Waterway Safety plan.

The Capital Maintenance and Management Plan presentation on the city of Unalaska website currently includes $11,914,943 in ports and harbors proprietary funds, including $2,654,145 for dredging, plus more funds and funding requests for fiscal year 2020 for improvements to the A and B floats in the Robert Storrs Small Boat Harbor, the Unalaska Marine Center cruise ship terminal design, rescue vessel engine upgrades and replacement of the port's rescue boat.

What happens and when with many plans for Alaska's fishing ports will be determined by actions still to be taken by the Alaska Legislature before it adjourns later this spring.


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