The Haines Borough may soon take over ownership of an Excursion Inlet bridge from the U.S. Forest Service. The bridge provides access to Neva Lake, which is the water source for an Ocean Beauty seafood processing plant.
The Neva Lake Bridge is not in good condition and needs to be replaced. Last year, the Forest Service closed it to vehicle traffic due to safety concerns.
The borough wasn’t sure how long that closure would last. The Forest Service didn’t seem keen to get to work on a $700,000 replacement project.
The borough asked U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski for help. Now, the Forest Service has agreed to replace the bridge, but after that, the agency wants to be done with it.
“They really don’t want to own it,” said borough manager Debra Schnabel. “They want us to own it. It might make sense for us to own it and that’s your decision.”
Excursion Inlet is a sparsely-populated part of the Borough. But Ocean Beauty Seafoods has a processing plant there, which generates tens of thousands of dollars in raw fish tax revenue for Haines.
Ocean Beauty uses Neva Lake as its water source. Closing the bridge to vehicles presents an obstacle for the seafood plant and the people who live and recreate in Excursion Inlet.
The borough set aside $270,000 to help replace the bridge. The money comes from federal forest receipts and can only be used for forest-related services and projects.
The deal before the assembly was to take over ownership of the new infrastructure after making that investment. Schnabel supported the idea.
“Because, number one, it accesses Neva Lake, which is a recreational area,” Schnabel said. “It accesses our property which we probably will be selling in the next decade. It also accesses the water system owned by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. And in reality, Ocean Beauty is an incredible economic engine in this community. And I think that we have not spent that much money to reinforce any infrastructure in the Excursion Inlet area and it would show an investment in that community.”
Assemblyman Tom Morphet was strongly opposed to the borough accepting responsibility of more infrastructure.
“I think we should tell the Forest Service it’s their bridge, maintain it,” he said. “These are liabilities and obligations that the…taxpayers we have in this valley will bear forever. I just ask you whether we have the money to spend $270,000 or maintain a $700,000 bridge at Excursion Inlet? I don’t believe we have money for any of it.”
But borough finance director Jila Stuart said if Haines doesn’t take over ownership, the Forest Service could just decommission the bridge.
The assembly voted 5-1 to assume ownership of the bridge for $270,000. Morphet was the only one opposed.