Haines’ Lutak Dock is an essential port for freight and fuel entering the community. But, it’s in bad shape and needs to be repaired or replaced. The borough is struggling to find funding for the preferred dock replacement option. And the idea of settling for a cheaper design isn’t going over well. Stakeholders came together at a meeting this week, but they didn’t find any solutions.
For Lutak Dock, time is of the essence.
“What are we waiting for?” asked assembly member Stephanie Scott.
“For that terrible event to take place? I think that we have to do something now even if it’s not the perfect dock,” said Scott. “We have to make sure that the people who are using the dock, serving us, are not in any danger. And it really worries me that they are.”
Engineers say the dock is at risk of catastrophic failure, and it’s living on borrowed time.
Michael Ganey works for Alaska Marine Lines, one of the main companies using the dock on a regular basis.
“Every time we drive a forklift to face of the dock conducting operations, it’s always a ‘what if this thing starts going and I’m on this machine?’ You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ganey.
The situation is dire, but the borough is at square one trying to figure how to pay for repair or replacement of the dock.
“I don’t have high expectations for any of the applications to be funded. But we still want to be in the game,” said Borough Manager Debra Schnabel referring to a couple federal grants she’s hoping could help fund the project.
The borough applied for a grant for $5 million in Dec. 2016. That was for pre-construction planning and geotechnical analysis. But that application was rejected because the project was phased.
The assembly, port and harbor advisory committee and planning commission settled on one preferred design. For upwards of $30 million, it would encapsulate the cells of the existing dock. But the borough doesn’t have the funding to a secure a match a grant for a project that size would likely require.
So, staff looked into a cheaper option that uses berthing dolphins and would cut back on the uplands footprint. That plan is estimated to cost about $20 million.
The planning commission and harbor committee pushed back on that, saying they should continue to work toward the more expensive design.
Planning Commissioner Donnie Turner said the municipality needs to make sure the current dock is safe and working while continuing to pursue money for the preferred design.
“It seems like we need to make sure that our roll-on, roll-off is functional,” said Turner. “So if something happens to the dock it can be used. And then I think we should just keep working on funding processes. It seems like we’re barely into this process and we’re bailing on the bigger project.”
One other design option is now in the mix, offered by PND Engineers. Planning Commission Chair Rob Goldberg suggested looking closer at that possibility.
“It essentially does what 1A does by containing the cells we have now,” said Goldberg. “But it comes in at $3 million cheaper than the R&M proposal. So it looked like it does what we want but it’s cheaper.”
Schnabel presented a few other possible funding sources, beyond grants. They include drawing from the borough’s permanent fund, the Lutak Dock Fund, and the capital improvement project sales tax.
She also presented a few borrowing options, including revenue and general obligation bonds or drawing from the general fund.
The borough has requested $15 million from the state for funds previously allocated to the Juneau Access Project.
A couple people suggested pursuing emergency funds for the project.
“I request and hope that the one thing we can get out of this meeting is an application to the state of Alaska requesting to be declared an emergency so we can access emergency funds,” said Planning Commissioner Brenda Josephson.
Jila Stuart is the borough’s chief fiscal officer. She said the funding uncertainty concerns her given the dock’s instability.
“I’m a little uncomfortable given that we’ve been told that if there’s a seismic event has a decent chance of not being there afterwards,” said Stuart. “I’m a little uncomfortable with us – with our plan being to get this grant that’s a long-shot.”
The group didn’t find an answer at this meeting. But Schnabel said she’s considering the different ideas presented. That includes going ahead and applying for grants or instead using local funds to get a project shovel-ready for future grants. She’s also considering focusing on maintaining and repairing the current roll-on, roll-off portion of the dock, instead of the whole thing. And, Schnabel is looking into applying for emergency funding.
Which direction the borough will take is still unclear.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that the Haines Borough applied for a grant to pursue the preferred design option, but the application was rejected because they couldn’t secure match funding. The borough applied for a grant for $5 million in Dec. 2016 for pre-construction planning and geo-technical analysis. The application was rejected because the project was phased.