Has there been enough chance for public input in the Haines small boat harbor expansion project? Borough assembly members and public commentators had a heated debate over that question at last week’s assembly meeting.
The assembly didn’t agree to hold an additional town hall meeting on the project. But they did vote to do a cost-benefit analysis for it.
An informal petition from Haines resident Tresham Gregg sparked this conversation. The petition takes issue with the parking lot in the proposed harbor design, which the assembly approved in February. The parking lot would expand in front of Lookout Park. Some people think would that would compromise the scenic waterfront. There were about 90 signatures on Gregg’s petition.
“We think that by listening to what your concerned citizenry is saying and working together to make the best of all possible solutions come true, you can create miracles instead of problems,” Gregg said.
The petition asks to suspend engineering design work on the project and to provide two things: A public review of the design plan by the planning commission and an economic analysis of the project.
Some members of the public objected to holding up the project. $19 million dollars in state money has to be used on construction by July 2017.
“Now that we have the money to do some of the project, it seems like nobody was interested in coming to the meetings and knowing what’s going on for quite a while, now people are wanting to stall and maybe not even do the project,” said Don Turner Jr. “I think that’s crazy.”
Assembly member Ron Jackson said he was impressed at the number of signatures on the petition. He suggested holding a town hall meeting.
Mayor Jan Hill said people had their chance to give input. She listed a number of public meetings on the project that happened, including a town hall in October, which had low attendance.
“Where was the public?” Hill said. “I’m just saying, we had a town hall meeting and nobody showed up.”
Assembly member Diana Lapham said she thinks the petition is based on misinformation.
“There has been a huge distrust of anything the borough does,” she said. “Whatever the borough does, it’s wrong — automatic, automatic, automatic. And then we are left to spend unaccountable amount of time to try to reconcile that.”
The assembly did not accept the petition’s request to suspend engineering work for the harbor project or to hold a town hall meeting. But they did agree to one part of the petition: the economic analysis.
“We really owe it to the community to tell them what they’re in for,” said assemblyman George Campbell. “We need to be able to tell our boat owners how much their moorage is gonna be for the next five, ten years to pay for this stuff. To tell us how much it’s gonna cost, to tell us what we’re gonna need to do to make it work. We’re here now, the best we can do it salvage what we’ve got and go forward.”
The assembly voted 5-1 to direct the finance committee to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the harbor project. Mike Case was opposed.
The finance committee is made up of assembly members Case, Jackson and Joanne Waterman. Their first meeting to talk about the economic analysis is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Coming up with other options for the parking lot expansion/Lookout Park issue seems to be stalled in various committees.
In April, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee gave suggestions about Lookout Park to the borough. The options include moving the park to the bluff above Front Street, Picture Point, or the southeast corner of the expanded parking lot.
The assembly hasn’t discussed those suggestions at recent meetings. Assistant mayor and assembly member Lapham says the mayor directed Parks and Rec, Planning, and the Tourism Advisory Board to work on ideas for Lookout Park together, and that’s why Parks and Rec’s ideas haven’t been on any agendas.
The 95 percent design for the harbor project is due June 1st and the borough hopes to go out to bid on the project by the end of the summer.
As for Tresham Gregg, the petitioner, he says he thinks the 90 signatures made the assembly realize that “the public isn’t sleeping at the wheel, even if we’re a little bit late.”