The Haines Portage Cove Harbor Expansion is one of the biggest capital projects the borough has taken on. It might also be one of the most divisive. It’s expected to have a $30 million-plus price tag. We took a look at how much of that cost Haines taxpayers might be responsible for.
You hear a lot of different numbers swirling around the harbor project. Opponents say the borough might have to pay $17 million or more. Supporters say the borough will have to pay very little because of hefty state grants and other funding sources.
The conflict came to a head recently when freshman Assemblyman Tom Morphet proposed a public vote on the harbor design.
“We’re on the precipice of spending $17 million, and perhaps as much as $30 million on a new harbor,” Morphet said. “I want the harbor to be the harbor that the public wants. Because the public will pay for the harbor.”
How much will the public pay?
There are a lot of moving pieces, so the answer is uncertain. But if projections stay true, there will be between $2.5 and $9 million left to pay for construction of the facility.
Here’s how I reached that number.
The harbor has four phases to it. Each has a different cost. Phase one is mostly deepening the harbor and adding a wave barrier to protect more space for future floats.
The Haines Borough Assembly recently approved a construction contractor for phase one at a cost of about $12.8 million. If you factor in the $3 million already spent on engineering, plus construction oversight and contingency money, you get $17.3 million for phase one.
Things are looking pricey. But this part of the harbor project is already funded. Haines received a nice chunk of money from the state through a general obligation bond and separate grant. It adds up to $19.5 million.
Take $17.3 million away, it leaves about $2.2 million of state money. We’ll put that aside for now.
The next phase is a sport fish ramp. That’s a boat launch for sport and commercial fishermen. It’s estimated to cost between $3 and $5 million. But that expense also might not fall on Haines.
Instead, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has verbally committed to paying for it. A memorandum of agreement between the borough and Fish and Game is on the table, ready for the borough to sign. It will go before the assembly at its Nov. 29 meeting.
If Fish and Game funding comes through, phase two is a wash.
Now to phase three: the floats. The plan is to install new floats that will include 39 moorage slips, expanding the vessel capacity of the harbor by about 35 percent. This part is expected to cost $4.7 million. Remember that $2.2 million left over from the state? If you use that here, you’re left with $2.5 million to pay.
That’s where the low end of the projected cost to Haines comes in. Remember, I said if the predicted prices stay true, the borough would be on the hook to pay between about $2.5 and $9 million.
It would be closer to $9 million if the borough proceeds with phase four. That includes an approximately $6 million drive-down ramp. The ramp would allow commercial fishermen to more easily load and unload heavy gear on their boats.
The borough staff leading the harbor project say phases one through three are essential. If there’s one piece that’s less of a priority, it’s phase four.
So, how would Haines pay between $2.5 and $9 million?
“That’s a question I can’t answer right now,” said Borough Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan. “I have some ideas.”
The first idea and first choice is more grant funding. Ryan is already exploring possible funding from state or federal sources.
Ryan says local revenue like the harbor enterprise fund or raw fish tax could make up a piece of the pie. But one thing he does not want to do is take out a bond. He wants to find a way to fund the remainder of the project that people are comfortable with.
“I’m not interested in going out and saying ‘well we’re gonna put the cost of this on the taxpayers so we can be done with all four phases,'” Ryan said.
So, to summarize, the harbor expansion is mostly funded by state money. But there’s still a significant sum: between $2.5 and $9 million that Haines has to figure out a way to pay for.
The harbor project is still in its infancy. But ground will be broken soon. The borough assembly approved a contract with Pacific Pile & Marine for phase one, which is due for completion by June of 2018.