The Portage Cove dock the Chilkoot Indian Association is working to purchase from the Klukwan Inc. trust. (Berett Wilber)

The Portage Cove dock the Chilkoot Indian Association is working to purchase from the Klukwan Inc. trust. (Photo by Berett Wilber)

A Haines tribe is in the final stages of buying a local dock that has gone unused for years. The Chilkoot Indian Association sees the Portage Cove dock as an economic development opportunity and a chance to keep a piece of land in tribal hands.

The dock is about a quarter mile down the road from Haines’ only cruise ship dock. A distinctive red and gray building at the entrance sits empty and the float where a tour boat used to tie up has been removed.

The facility has been vacant for at least five years. In 2012, the Native corporation that owned it, Klukwan Inc., declared bankruptcy.

“It’s been bugging me for years seeing that dock empty,” said Harriet Brouillette, the Chilkoot Indian Association tribal administrator.

She used to work for Klukwan Inc., which was once highly profitable. The corporation and the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan used the dock for a tour excursion catamaran called the Chilkat Express.

Brouillette says it was important for her to keep the dock in tribal hands.

“This was, at one time, all tribal land, and you can see that tribally held land has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk,” Brouillette said. “And we just need to put the brakes on that. If we lose one more piece of property, we’re just shrinking our sovereignty.”

At the same time Brouillette watched the dock fall into neglect, she and other Chilkoot employees were looking for ways to use a specific pool of federal funding. The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration and is specifically for transportation projects.

“We were just still trying to figure out what could we do besides building trails and filling potholes on Third Avenue,” Brouillette said.

In spring of 2016, they thought of the dock. But it was a challenge to convince the federal government that the money, which is traditionally used for things like tribal road projects, should go toward marine transportation.

“Our people are seafaring people and it only made sense to use some of our federal transportation dollars for marine transportation,” Brouillette said.

Eventually, the tribe got approval to pursue a purchase of the dock. Brouillette says it should be final by the end of October. Since the sale isn’t yet complete, she didn’t disclose the price tag. The most recent assessment valued the property at about $700,000, which Brouillette confirmed is in the ballpark of what the tribe is offering to pay.

Rod Worl, the president of the Klukawn Inc. trust, which owns the dock, said he could not comment until the sale is complete.

Once it does go through, the first step will be repairing the facility. The Chilkoot tribe commissioned an engineer assessment of the dock.

“There are some pieces that [the engineer] uses the phrase ‘nearing end of life,’ which is a polite way to say not good,” said Ryan Barber, the tribe’s assistant transportation coordinator. “But a lot of it is still very functional, like Harriet said, it needs some love. And some anodes.”

In total, the repairs could cost more than a million dollars.

“We’re not scared away by the cost of the repairs because I think that in the long run, keeping that piece of property locally owned is very important,” Brouillette said.

The tribe plans to draw from the close to million dollars a year it receives from the federal transportation program for dock repairs.

The tribe hopes to have the dock ready for use by the spring. Transportation coordinator Nick Kokotovich says they plan to offer mooring space for yachts and possibly small cruise ships.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us and Haines because Haines doesn’t have a docking facility for private yachts that come up,” said Kokotovich. “And there’s a big need there.”

Brouillette says they have other ideas as well, like using the building as a carving shed and offering canoe rides.

“There are some options,” Brouillette said. “And we are going to take our time in developing those. We’ll probably just start out with offering larger private boat mooring. And from there, figure out what works best for us.”

She says they are open to ideas from the community.

The long-term goal is to create local jobs and give Chilkoot tribal members control over a slice of the waterfront.