The Haines Portage Cove Harbor. (Emily Files)

The Haines Portage Cove Harbor. (Emily Files)

Disagreement about the Haines small boat harbor expansion came to a head Tuesday afternoon at a special borough assembly meeting. At issue was one Assemblyman’s proposal to hold a special advisory vote on the project. The resolution was rejected after the mayor broke a tie vote.

Many of the people who spoke at the meeting are commercial fishermen, who say the harbor expansion impacts their livelihood in a very real way.

“It feels like as a fisherman I’m getting slapped in the face, and I have so much invested in this community,” said Stuart Dewitt.

The majority of people who spoke during the hour and a half of public comment listed reasons not to hold a special advisory vote. Here are a few of the arguments made against it:

The timing is terrible. The special vote would take place in mid-December at the earliest, when many people are out of town.

“Most of the harbor users will be out of town during this vote,” said Bill Rostad. “That smells. That really smells.”

Another argument: it’s not clear what would happen if the vote took place and a majority said they didn’t like the harbor design.

“It’s not giving people a choice here,” said Rob Goldberg. “It’s not ‘choose design A or choose design B.’ It’s ‘choose design A or what?’ Go back to the drawing board, to square zero?”

Haines has about $19.5 million in state funding for the project. If the process is delayed or halted, some worry the borough would have to forfeit that money.

“If we don’t take it, somebody else will,” said Haynes Tormey. “Some might stand up and say those are obligations for the future. That’s an investment into my future.”

Finally, some people said the residents elect assembly members to make informed decisions for them.

“The responsibility of the Haines Borough Assembly members is to vote on this project themselves, not to kick it back to the people that don’t make the attempt to inform themselves,” said Jerry Erny.

Although most of the public comments were against the advisory vote, a handful of people spoke up for it. Kathleen Menke was one of them.

“We didn’t vote for you to decide what’s best for the community. We trust you to involve the community,” Menke said. “And I think that’s what Tom [Morphet] is trying to do here.”

That is what Assemblyman Tom Morphet was trying to do. Morphet was just elected to the assembly, along with Heather Lende. A major part of Morphet’s platform in the run-up was to hold a public vote on the harbor. He says for a project of its scale, the borough has an obligation to do so.

“The harbor that we build won’t belong to fishermen, it won’t belong to boat owners. It will belong to the people of the Haines Borough,: Morphet said. “That is why I believe we need to ask the people of the Haines Borough if this is the harbor they want.”

Morphet pointed out that the borough still needs to find a way to pay for $10 million or more of the project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $30 million.

“I drink alcohol, and I have done some reckless things under the influence. I have driven drunk and I have woken up in the wrong house,” Morphet said. “But if I’m asked to spend $15 or $30 million  of other people’s money on something they don’t want, it will be by far the most reckless thing I’ve done.”

Morphet was backed up by fellow assembly members Lende and Tresham Gregg. But across the dais from them, Mike Case, Ron Jackson and Margaret Friedenauer expressed concerns with holding an eleventh hour advisory vote.

“We have no direction on where to go,” Friedenauer said. “And we’re not offering anybody solutions by saying if 50 plus one vote against this design in the week before Christmas, in Haines, that we can do anything about it. It’s a lot more risky to put that grant funding up for grabs by saying ‘We’re not sure. We took five years, but we don’t have our crap together so we’re still not sure.’”

When it came to a vote on Morphet’s resolution, the assembly was split. Morphet, Gregg and Lende voted for it. Friedenauer, Jackson and Case voted against it. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie with a ‘no’ vote.

“A vote had the chance to clear the air on this project,” said Morphet after the meeting. “I thought it was a benign way to bring people together on this issue. I’m disappointed.”

After the resolution was rejected, Friedenauer said that the public process for phase one of the harbor ‘may have been lacking.’ She made a motion to direct borough staff to come up with a public input plan for future phases of the expansion. That was something the entire assembly could agree on.


Original story (11/1/16):

Today, the Haines Borough Assembly narrowly rejected a proposal to hold a special advisory vote on the Haines Portage Cove Harbor Expansion.

Assemblyman Tom Morphet brought the resolution forward last week. He proposes holding an advisory vote to give the public an opportunity to voice support or opposition to the project. Morphet and others say the borough didn’t follow a robust enough public process in planning the harbor.

The assembly held a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to vote on his proposal. After about an hour and a half of public comments, the assembly was split. Morphet, Heather Lende and Tresham Gregg voted in favor of the resolution. Margaret Friedenauer, Ron Jackson and Mike Case voted against it. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie vote against the resolution.