(Gabe Thomas)

(Gabe Thomas)

Haines Borough Manager Bill Seward announced at this week’s assembly meeting that the bid documents for the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion Project were ready to go. And first thing Wednesday morning, the project was officially out to bid.

This major step forward came after a lengthy debate at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. The topic wasn’t on the agenda, but it has come up at nearly every meeting for the past year. The harbor expansion has divided the community, and the assembly, and this week was no exception.

Members of the public spoke both for, and against, the project. Behind the dias, Assemblyman Tresham Gregg tried to stall the expansion by making a motion to turn the decision over to the voters in a special election. That motion failed 4-2 after a prolonged discussion, with Gregg and George Campbell in favor of letting citizens decide.

“I wish that we could be doing better,” Gregg said. “I think we’re going to regret it. It may come in overbid and then what are we going to do? I don’t think that the various costs have been spelled out to the people on the different phases and what’s involved there.”

The base bid for Phase 1 is $18.5 million. The borough has $19.5 million to spend from the state for the initial phase which includes the wave barrier, dredging and parking lot. Future phases will include prettying up the parking area, adding a water-front trail, a sport-fish ramp, and plenty more. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is on board for the sport ramp and some of the aesthetic features, while money from cruise ship passenger head taxes could be used for the trail design. But those additions are years away. Borough Manager Bill Seward weighed in on the debate, saying that the time for voting on the harbor has passed.

“I’ve seen this thing, in my brief time with you guys, rip you guys apart,” Seward said. “And rip this community apart. And maybe the way to have avoided that would have been through a vote of the people. But, long story short, we’re past the point of no return.”

The public will have a chance to get their say at another Harbor Town Hall scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the library.