The Haines Portage Cove Harbor is undergoing a major expansion. The project is currently in its first phase, which involves deepening the harbor, expanding the uplands and installing a new breakwater. Now design work is starting on phase two: a drive-down sport fishing ramp. But it isn’t the ramp itself causing the most discussion. It’s the 4.5-acre parking lot and waterfront park that go with it.
Fishermen trying to launch their boats from Portage Cove don’t have a great option right now. They use a cramped ramp right next to a restaurant.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recognizes the need for a sport ramp in Haines. The department is leveraging federal funding to pay for it.
“The purpose of this project is to address the recreational boating needs of the community with a two-lane boat launch ramp with a boarding float, trailer parking spaces, vehicle parking spaces, to improve pedestrian access and provide a community park facility,” said PND engineer Brandon Ivanowicz at a recent community meeting.
The ramp will be positioned at the south end of the expanded harbor.
In order for Fish and Game to pay for the boat launch, there are a certain number of parking spaces that need to go with it: a minimum of 48 trailer parking spots and 15 car spots. The lot will also serve fishermen using new moorage floats. That adds about 130 spaces, bringing the total close to 200 parking spots.
This new parking lot is being built in front of a waterfront viewpoint called Lookout Park.
Whether Lookout Park should be demolished and a new park built on the edge of the expanded uplands is one of the major design questions for phase two. The layout of the parking lot is another.
Ivanowicz presented three design options. One relocates Lookout Park, one keeps it as is, and one preserves it and builds a new park.
The only concept that meets ideal parking requirements is the one in which Lookout Park is relocated. Chris Mertl of Corvus Design said that seems OK with the community members he’s talked to.
“It was pretty unanimous that Lookout Park was going to go away,” Mertl said. “Just ‘cause it was going to be surrounded by a parking lot. So it might be ‘lookout at the trailer parking park,’ you might rename it.”
Mertl is leading conceptual planning on a waterfront trail, which would tie into the harbor project.
The residents at the meeting were mostly supportive of the design with the most parking spots and relocated park. This design is called ‘concept one.’
“Trying to preserve the existing Lookout Park is futile,” said Ray Staska. “It’s a very underutilized facility because it’s just a concrete monument that’s open to the sea breeze and the rain.”
The planning commission unanimously endorsed concept one.
Even though there was near consensus on the design, the engineers have some changes to make.
Planning commissioners brought up an engineering oversight: Haines has unique parking space size requirements that were not taken into account. The borough could change code or grant a variance. For now, PND said they would work in the requirements and report back at another conceptual design meeting.
Construction of phase two is predicted to begin in September of next year, with completion in May of 2019.
Fish and Game plans to contribute $3.5 million to the project. Depending on federal funding over the next couple years, the department could pay up to $4.5 million. That gets close to covering the projected total cost for the preferred design, about $5 million. That means best case scenario, the borough may have to contribute about half a million dollars towards phase two.