Boats docked at Haines small boat harbor.

Boats docked at the Haines small boat harbor. (Emily Files)

A report solicited by a Haines’ planning commissioner from a statewide coastal engineer suggests a significant change to the design of the small boat harbor expansion project. The preliminary report advises that consideration be given to moving the new wave barrier away from the current rubble mound breakwater. The borough is waiting for a final report before discussing possible next steps.

The study was solicited by commissioner Rob Miller under the direction of the planning commission chair and the former borough manager, and was received in early December. Here’s Miller at a planning commission meeting last week.

“There were questions being asked by people about the integrity of the design, and I thought that people would feel better about the integrity of the design if an independent engineer reviewed it who was qualified,” said Miller.

Harvey Smith, a coastal engineer with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities wrote the draft which said overall, PND Engineers’ plans looked thorough and sound.

But Smith suggested the borough consider changing the placement of the proposed wave barrier. Smith’s report says it would be safer to separate and overlap the new and old breakwaters. There are a few reasons why, including to protect against the possibility of bigger, destructive waves during rough weather. Security concerns about the distance between the proposed breakwater and the cruise ship dock were also brought up in the report.

Here’s interim manager Brad Ryan.

“The main reason that this came up was to hopefully get away from that 408 permit because we wouldn’t be tying into the breakwater. However, when you do that, what would actually happen is you’d push the whole wave barrier out into the water deeper and you’d extend it out beyond the end of the breakwater. The whole point is to have a wave barrier there, now they would be overlapping and you’d come in between the two.”

Ryan said that according to PND, that change would cost about $1 million. He also said the 408 permit would still be required by \the Army Corps of Engineers, even if the new breakwater didn’t connect to the rubble mound. The 408 permit is required when a proposed project could affect an existing Army Corp structure, in this case the rubble mound. Ryan said that’s because the alteration would change the wave reflection and still affect the current breakwater.

In an email chain sent out this week, at least one concerned resident accused the borough of suppressing the report. Ryan said that’s untrue. Commissioner Miller distributed it to various committee chairs, the harbor master and the mayor.

“We were just waiting on a final report before we did anything with his comments, in case there were changes,” said Ryan.

Ryan said the borough knew about the independent review, which was done at no cost to the borough, but didn’t have anything to do with the initial request. He said additional input from a professional in the field was welcomed, but won’t necessarily hold any weight when making the final decisions. And, he added, it didn’t really divulge any information that the Corps of Engineers hasn’t already told them.

Harbor master Shawn Bell said in a statement that he was pleased with Smith’s preliminary report. Bell said that the report was based on a 700-foot wave barrier design which has since been changed to 600 feet with the option to add on 33 feet. That extra space should help alleviate navigational and safety concerns, Bell wrote.

He added that the U.S. Coast Guard was contacted regarding the proximity between the Port Chilkoot cruise ship dock and proposed wave barrier, and that the distance should suffice.

Miller said he expects the final report within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, an update from the Army Corps on the permitting process is expected later this week.