A couple dozen Haines-area residents gathered in a citizen-organized town hall meeting Monday to talk about the Small Boat Harbor Expansion.
Earlier this spring, a petition with 92 signatures that asked for a boat harbor forum didn’t motivate the Haines Borough Assembly to organize one. So, resident Joe Parnell put Monday’s town hall together.
Much of the conversation centered around aesthetics vs. functionality.
“This is gonna be a visual nightmare out here for everybody,” said Parnell.
An expanded parking lot is the first part of the design that sparked fears about degrading the waterfront’s scenic value. Now, a planned steel wave barrier is causing concern.
“There are many communities around the country that frankly rue the day that they ruined the aesthetics of their waterfront,” said Gershon Cohen. “And they’re spending millions to reclaim waterfront area.”
Cohen said all the pictures he’s seen of the harbor design are bird’s-eye-view. He said he wants to see a drawing that shows what the harbor expansion would look like from street-level.
Don Turner is on the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee. He said the breakwater won’t be pretty.
“Now, it’s not gonna be becoming,” Turner said. “It’s gonna be a big steel wall out there, there’s no way around it. Unless somebody goes out there and paints dolphins and stuff on it.”
Turner challenged some of the people at the meeting, saying this process has been happening for a long time. He said there have been many opportunities for public input.
“It wasn’t until after the fact, basically, that people came out of the woodwork and said ‘Oh my god, what are you doing?'” Turner said. “And that irritates me, because there’s been lots of time for people if they had been paying any attention at all to look at this.”
One person asked Borough Manager Dave Sosa whether the harbor project could be slowed down to allow the public more time to give feedback. Sosa said that’s up to the assembly. A couple fishermen spoke out against the suggestion.
“We need a working harbor, it’s not a yacht marina,” Will Prisciandaro said. “I mean, like what [Turner] said, it might not be pretty, but go down there today, every parking spot was full. I mean, I could really care less if there’s dolphins on the thing. I want a bigger harbor so the fishermen in this town can have a place to work on their boats.”
Artist and business owner Tresham Gregg said, if the aesthetic of the harbor is degraded, it could hurt Haines’ tourism industry.
“I realize that the community gains a lot from the fishing industry, but it also gains a lot from the tourism industry,” Gregg said.
Aside from visual concerns, Parnell questioned how the borough would afford future phases and maintenance of the project. A state bond of $19 million will pay for the expanded breakwater, dredging and parking lot. But future improvements like additional slips and a drive-down dock are not yet funded.
“I personally think that the legislators are gonna say, ‘Haines got their bite of the apple.’ They got their $19 million once before,” Parnell said. “That’s a pretty big stretch to just say we’re gonna get another $10 million.”
One of two borough assembly members at the town hall, Diana Lapham, responded.
“You know, Joe, that’s too bad because it’s statements like that that start formulating mindsets that are very difficult for the assembly to convince our citizens otherwise,” Lapham said. “We need to deal with facts only, not hearsay or rumor. And it’s like wait a minute, this project has been going on for 15, 20 years, and now you’re coming out and telling me what’s going on? No.”
People’s concerns were clear at the meeting. What isn’t clear is if anything will come of it.
Some said they would reach out to elected representatives about their worries. It’s ultimately up to the borough assembly to make changes to the project or its timeline.