It was standing room only at Thursday’s town hall meeting about the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion Project. About 40 people, both for and against the multi-million-dollar venture, crowded into the Haines Public Library to hear an update from Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan.

The harbor project is officially out to bid, as of Wednesday. The timeline is about a month for prospective contractors to submit proposals, the assembly to approve a contract, and the notice to proceed is given. If that schedule seems quick, it’s not. At least according to Ryan. That issue was raised a couple of different times at the meeting. Joe Parnell asked if the timeline was related to the upcoming municipal election.

“So you wanted to make sure that the contracts were done by the assembly, before the assembly might change?”

Ryan responded.

“I think it would be best for the current assembly to complete the project, yeah.”

Later in the meeting, Assemblyman Tresham Gregg, who, along with Parnell, has been vocal about his opposition to the project, asked about the timeline.

“Isn’t one month a short period of time for a company to figure out what their prospective bid would be on this?” asked Gregg.

Ryan said a month was a reasonable amount of time.

“I actually had at least one contractor call me interested in the project and go ‘Wow, you gave a long time.’ I was a little shocked that he thought that. So I think we’re right in the acceptable timeframe”

So, Phase 1 is out to bid.  It includes dredging, installing the 600-foot steel wave barrier, and uplands development, and is expected to come in around $18.5 million, with about $19.5 million set aside to spend. Ryan said a land-use permit has been submitted to the planning commission and will come up for discussion-only at the Sept. 8 meeting.

Most of the conversation during Thursday’s hour-long forum focused on the parking lot, or “Harbor Park” as Ryan is now referring to it. The first phase will include the dirt work, but beautifying the parking lot will most likely have to wait until future phases. Dredged material will be used to make the new, larger parking area, and Ryan said it needs to settle for a while – up to two years.

The need for the larger parking lot hasn’t been scoped out with any sort of formal analysis. But grant money from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for Phase 2, which includes a two-lane sport-fishing ramp and aesthetic improvements to the uplands area, hinges on the larger parking area.

“They are projecting based on what they see as need, larger vehicles and bigger trailers seem to be the ways it’s going,” Ryan said. “It’s not unfounded on their side of what they’re pushing for. I understand there’s some sentiment … that one ramp will end up with a smaller parking area, I don’t think that’s true if we’re going to use Fish and Game money.”

ADF&G is tentatively on the hook for about $3 million, and Ryan said they’re happy to be part of this project, so he doesn’t foresee any snags when it comes to getting that money.

Norm Hughes is the chair of the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee, and a commercial fisherman. He clarified a few items from the committee’s perspective, and said the new sport ramp will make operations much safer at the harbor.

“We’ve been trying to place a new ramp in the Haines Harbor for the last decade, but there’s just not enough room inside the existing harbor,” Hughes said. “They won’t give us the money without a breakwater. So, this is where we are now through many years of process. We think it’s a good compromise for making it safer and easier for people to get in and out.”

Outside the meeting, Paul Nelson, another harbor opponent, was waiting with a sandwich board over his shoulders questioning the borough’s ethics. He towed a disabled truck with signs and rusty pieces of metal, and parked it in front of the borough administration building in protest.

With a lot of questions, many of which have been asked and answered repeatedly at past meetings, and rumors floating around, Ryan is working on a Frequently Asked Questions flier. He said he’ll post it around town and it will be available online.

Phase 1 of the harbor project is expected to be completed in June, 2018.