The Haines small boat harbor on a sunny summer day. (Emily Files)

The Haines small boat harbor on a sunny summer day. (Emily Files)

Borough Manager Bill Seward has decided to delay the bid process for the first phase of the Haines small boat harbor expansion. The borough assembly was going to view bids and possibly choose a contractor at a meeting at the end of September. But on Thursday, the planning commission recommended the manager extend the bid opening, partly because of three appeals citizens filed over the harbor’s borough land use permit.

The land use permit allowing the harbor expansion on borough land was submitted by Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan and approved by Borough Manager Bill Seward. That approval has been complicated by three appeals, submitted by residents Paul Nelson, Sue Waterhouse and Debra Schnabel.

The appeals were not discussed at Thursday’s planning meeting. A discussion item about the land use permit was on the agenda. That item turned into a more than three-hour debate about the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion.

Commission chair Rob Goldberg said there are some pieces of the project that might still be open to public input. For example, what the four-acre uplands parking and possible park area will look like.

“It’s almost like we’re building a house but the siding hasn’t been decided on yet and we’re here to talk about what do we want to do,” Goldberg said.

Commissioner Heather Lende asked if the discussion would be an ‘exercise in futility.’ Despite many peoples’ objections to the project and the process it went through, borough leaders have said it’s too late to put the project on hold or significantly alter it.

“We’re pretty deep into it,” said Facilities Director Ryan. “We’re 2.7 million dollars into it. It’s a dangerous game to start playing to do a major rewrite of the designs. Can we ask to do that, sure. What are the answers, I don’t know. Those are questions I don’t want to ask.”

The room was full of citizens who wanted to say their piece on the harbor project. They voiced many of the same concerns that have come up time and again at past meetings. Does the waiting list for harbor slips warrant this size expansion? Is a steel wave barrier really the only financially feasible option? Why does the parking lot/uplands area need be four acres? And, why is this project moving forward when there’s only enough funding for phase one?

Resident Fred Einspruch objected to the cost of the project, its aesthetics and more.

“It’s in conflict the comprehensive plan. The community hates it,” he said. “It’s ugly. And what’s most important is these processes in Haines yield these projects that we hate.”

After listening to the emotionally-charged discussion for three hours, Planning Commissioner Brenda Josephson said this:

“I really think that at this point we should be stepping back.”

Josephson touched on a sore point for the planners: the feeling that the ports and harbors committee and borough assembly did not include them enough in the harbor planning process. She also balked at the suggestion that since the borough already spent about $3 million, there can’t be any major changes to the project.

“The best way I can describe it is you don’t throw good money after bad,” she said.

Josephson suggested the commission ask the borough to delay the project’s bid process for 30 days. Commissioners Lende and Larry Geise said that would be prudent, given the three appeals that have yet to be resolved.

The motion to ask the borough manager or assembly to delay the bid opening for 30 days passed in a 5-1 vote, with Donnie Turner opposed.

It didn’t take long for Borough Manager Seward to act on the commission’s advice. At the end of the meeting, he announced that he pushed the bid opening from Sept. 21 to Oct. 19. That basically extends the deadline for bids and delays the bid selection process by about a month.

It means instead of the current assembly having the ability to choose a contractor at the end of this month, the new assembly, with two freshly-elected members, will get to vote on bid selection.

Ryan says assuming the assembly approves a contractor, he doesn’t anticipate the bids delay actually impacting the timeline for completion of phase one.

The planning commission is in for more harbor project discussion at its next meeting. On Oct. 13, planners will hear the three appeals filed over the project’s land use permit.