Boats docked at Haines small boat harbor.

Boats docked at the Haines small boat harbor. (Emily Files)

At a Haines Borough Planning Commission meeting Thursday, about two hours of discussion focused on the 95 percent design of the small boat harbor expansion. Some members of the public became hopeful that the commission would recommend major changes to the design.


Planning commission chair Rob Goldberg began the conversation with this:

“No piles have been driven on this project yet, no concrete has been poured. There is still a chance to make changes. If we come up tonight with something that saves us money, or is more efficient, or is better looking, I think the planning commission will be willing to suggest these changes to the assembly.”

Dick Somerville of PND Engineers, the firm contracted to design the harbor expansion, was teleconferenced into the meeting to answer questions.  Several members of the public spoke about concerns with the proposed 700-foot steel wave barrier.

Bill Kurz said he was concerned about the safety of boats navigating between the breakwater and  cruise ships at the Port Chilkoot Dock.

“With a large cruise ship at the cruise ship dock, it makes it tight for boats coming and going,” Kurz said. “It’s not that you can’t get through there, but if you’re looking at bad weather, which is the reason for the breakwater, you’re getting in a tight spot.”

Other residents advocated for the rubble mound breakwater to be extended instead of adding on a steel one. Engineer Somerville said the cost of the rubble mound barrier was too high for the financial limitations of the project.

“We still recommend the rubble mound,” Somerville said. “We believe the rubble mound, outside of the cost, is the best option for protecting the harbor. We’ve always felt that the rubble mound if the best option. But considering cost, when you bring that in, it does not make the cut.”

Resident Debra Schnabel brought an alternative plan to the commission. She used elements from a previous design, 3A. It includes relocating Lookout Park so that it is not surrounding by a parking lot and installing one instead of two floats for slips. Schnabel said according to PND documents, that plan would save about $4 million.

“So I’m asking the planning commission to correct an error that was made,” she said. “The harbor design can have a smaller footprint, a higher aesthetic, and it can cost less to build and maintain with those two decisions. Number one, a one float system, and number two, relocate the waterfront park to the waterfront.”

The idea of extending onto the current float instead of building another one didn’t sit well with Don Turner, who is on the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee. Turner said a one float design would cause congestion with human and boat traffic.

Planning chairman Goldberg said he thought Schnabel’s ideas ‘had merit.’

To that, Evelyna Vignola said ‘hallelujah.’

“Because I felt like, who is leading this, and why is this park in the middle of a parking lot?” Vignola said. “Why are we supposed to think it’s a good idea? It’s a bad idea.”

How are we going to pay for this? That was another big question from residents. About $19 million in state funding does not cover the entire project.

“Why not take another look at the potential for doing something we can afford and that would give us the working slips that we need now without having to wait for manna from heaven?” asked Tresham Gregg.

Planning commissioner Heather Lende said if voters are eventually going to be asked to approve a bond to help pay for the harbor expansion, then the plan should be tailored to garner wider public support.

“If we pick a project that everybody likes, isn’t it highly possible that the community would vote to bond it and we could get it done?” Lende said.

The idea to recommend Schnabel’s changes to the borough assembly only came to fruition halfway.

The commission decided on four recommendations: to move Lookout Park to the waterfront, to ask the state coastal engineer to review the 95 percent design, to get more information about whether the distance between the wave barrier and cruise ships is safe, and to install anodes at the outset.

They did not propose any changes to the parking lot, wave barrier or float designs.

The commission approved the recommendations 5-1, with Lende opposed. She said the project and the planning process are not consistent with the borough’s comprehensive plan. Commissioners Goldberg, Brenda Josephson, Lee Heinmiller, and Rob Miller agreed that the commission’s role needs to be better defined for projects like this.

“We have a problem with the process and we have to fix it,” Miller said. “And I’m really torn because I feel for the community on this, and yet we need [the harbor expansion.] I don’t want it to go away.”

Turner, from the Port and Harbor Committee, said people had their chance to speak out earlier in the process. He said his committee had dozens of meetings that people didn’t show up to.

“People need to pay attention to what’s going on with stuff, and if you’re not going to pay attention, don’t bitch about it,” Turner said.

The planning commission’s recommendations will go to the borough assembly, which will review the 95 percent design at an upcoming meeting.