Leslie Ross ranks potential uses for the waterfront trail. (Emily Files)

Leslie Ross ranks potential uses for the waterfront trail. (Emily Files)

Public process is a point of contention for the Haines small boat harbor expansion. Residents have repeatedly said they feel the project moved forward without taking into account what many people in the community want. Borough staff are drawing from that experience as they begin a new and related project: a Portage Cove waterfront trail. They hope robust public input will be a key part of the trail’s development.

On Wednesday, the waterfront aesthetics committee met for the first time in months. The meeting was a conglomeration of different things. It included an update on the waterfront trail project and a workshop to gauge opinion on harbor uplands development.

Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan gave the audience an overview of the trail project.

“It’s always been that this should be a community-driven project,” Ryan said. “Trying to get more community input and hopefully get a lot of buy-in and trust that we’re putting projects forward the community wants.”

Here’s the borough’s vision for the trail, as described in its request for design proposals: the Portage Cove Interpretive Trail and Harbor Park would route pedestrians through the small boat harbor area, and tie the harbor project to a waterfront trail. Interpretive signs would enhance the experience.

The trail would connect the cruise ship dock and boat harbor, and possibly extend toward Picture Point in one direction and Battery Point in the other. The project would also include relocation of Lookout Park to the southeast end of the expanded harbor parking lot.

A selection committee recently reviewed three conceptual design proposals and settled on a top choice. That decision should be announced early next week.

“I want to say this is not just the harbor expansion,” Ryan said. “This is the trail around Portage Cove. Hopefully a little bit of parking issues can be engaged in that. And we want to engage the community to help direct borough efforts around Portage Cove.”

Some of the residents who attended the meeting doubted the trail’s viability. Much of the waterfront property the path might cover is privately owned.  Ryan says that’s something the design firm will take into account.

“I keep hearing ‘well you can’t put the trail on the beach all the way around.’ I’m not telling anybody we should do that,” Ryan said. “I have nothing against the trail being on the road or going in and out of property. I think the design firms will be savvy enough to know that.”

Ryan says he had a casual conversation with a Federal Highways Administration representative about the possibility of a safety corridor out to Battery Point. He says that’s just one idea that might be incorporated into the trail as it progresses.

As for funding, Ryan says cruise ship head taxes are paying for the design contract. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game may provide funding for relocation of Lookout Park. That funding is tied to construction of a sport fishing ramp in the harbor project. There is also a federal recreational trails grant program.

Planning technician Holly Smith facilitated the next part of the meeting.

“I do want to know what the community wants,” Smith said. “And if you participate, it’s gonna help me help the borough, which in turn is supposed to help the public.”

Debra Schnabel ranks concerns for the waterfront trail project. (Emily Files)

Debra Schnabel ranks concerns for the waterfront trail project. (Emily Files)

Smith gathered public feedback on the trail and harbor uplands using stickers. Each attendee was given stickers to rank what they would like to use the area for, which part of the project should be the top priority, their concerns, and the best ways to engage the community.

The results showed the Wednesday group’s biggest concerns are integration of the harbor project with the waterfront trail and public engagement.

The public will have more opportunities to weigh in on the trail. The contract for design work includes five community meetings.