The Haines Portage Cove Harbor. (Emily Files)

The Haines Portage Cove Harbor. (Emily Files)

The Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday voted to dedicate about $420,000 to upland development in the small boat harbor project. It was an effort to recognize the concerns many residents have about the visual impact of the expansion. But the proposal to earmark the funds aggravated some fishermen. They protested what they saw as another attempt to stymie progress on the harbor project.

The message from the dozen people who spoke against the upland allocation was clear: the borough should focus on the functionality and safety of the harbor before aesthetics.

“It needs to be a functional harbor before you get to put all the frills on it,” said Jerry Erny.

Some, like Terry Pardee, questioned whether harbor critics had spent any significant time at the facility.

“I feel like it’s a backdoor attempt to take money away from our boat harbor,” Pardee said. “I really don’t care much about trails and flowers and trees and that sort of thing, just to make people that I haven’t seen at all in the harbor — just to give them a warm fuzzy.”

Donnie Turner said the assembly should wait until phase 1 of the project is complete before earmarking an amount of money that he said seemed arbitrary.

“You’re taking a really weird, abstract number and taking money out of the boat harbor without knowing what it’s for,” Turner said. “If you have a plan for the $400,000, I’d like to hear it.”

“I really find [this criticism] challenging,” said Assembly member Heather Lende. She proposed setting aside the $420,000 at the last meeting.

Here’s how that proposal came about. It started with a portion of work in the harbor project referred to as add alternative C, which includes an additional 33 feet on the wave barrier and more dredging in the harbor basin. The assembly originally excluded that work from the phase 1 contract. But borough staff asked they reconsider, and brought it back as a $420,000 change order.

The assembly had left out add alt C in an attempt to save some money and possibly ease harbor critics’ concerns. Now that they were being asked to put add alt C back in, Lende made a motion she thought could address some of the harbor project’s aesthetic questions.

“I said, ‘well would everybody maybe vote for the 33 feet if we designate $420,000 to upland development?'” Lende said. “We said it was for aesthetics, we said we want to get some seed money to match the front when we got to that. And so I made this resolution in good faith with my fellow assembly members to get this 33 feet back in.”

The assembly approved the add alt C change order in December. At Tuesday’s meeting, Lende’s proposed $420,000 uplands allocation was before them.

“I think it goes a long way toward mending some fences and I encourage you to pass it,” Lende said. “And if not, I’m going to feel like my efforts were essentially in bad faith to even propose it.”

Assembly members Tom Morphet and Ron Jackson said they supported the allocation as a sort of compromise on a project that has divided the community.

“This is a gesture towards those people, which are a fair amount, who think a harbor can be both functional and aesthetic,” Jackson said. “And by saving this little bit of money it will get us started on it.”

The resolution passed, 5-1 with Assemblyman Mike Case opposed.

At a town hall meeting the following night, Interim Manager Ryan said the borough will end up spending more than $420,000 on upland development anyway. He said it’s unclear whether the earmarked money will come from the state general obligation bond or other pools of funding and what upland improvements it will go towards.

Work on phase 1 of the harbor project is expected to begin in March.