Fishermen, residents and borough officials filled the Chilkat Center lobby Thursday evening to hear from harbormaster Shawn Bell. He updated the crowd on projects and upgrades at Lutak, Letnikof, the Portage Cove harbor and the cruise ship dock. But the focus of the forum quickly turned to Portage Cove, and the small boat harbor expansion project.

There have been a few changes to the 95 percent plan of the Portage Cove Harbor expansion project including a shortened wave barrier, the accompanying dredging, and plans for a two-lane drive down ramp. With the wave barrier being brought down to 600 feet instead of 700, that raised questions of where dredging should happen to compensate for the 100-feet less of protection. Here’s Bell:

“So the base bid that we have is 600 linear feet of break water but the thing that we identified right away is that our dredging is not matching our breakwater base bid.”

Because there is less wave protection, the plan had to be tweaked a little, with everything moved over to get behind the shortened wave barrier. There is an option for an additional 33 feet in the revised plan, but only if money and resources allow. The plan no longer includes the full 700 feet because of budgetary restraints.

“Whatever we end up getting for the breakwater, we don’t anticipate coming back at a later date and then adding to it. So we wanted the base bid dredging to match the base bid of the breakwater regardless,” Bell said.

After PND completed a wave study, it was decided that the future launch ramp needed to move over to reap protection from the wall. The sewer output line has also been moved over in the new draft, to compensate for the reduced barrier.

“Obviously there’s a huge amount of savings from all this dredging that is now not having to be accomplished, but the downfall is that now we have a smaller area to work with and we’re crunched in a little bit more,” said Bell. “We’re still able to squeeze in what we wanted to in the original design but it tightens things up a bit, for sure.”

The adjustments bring the cost for the wave barrier, dredging and parking lot to around $18.3 million with $19.5 million to spend. So, Bell said, some of the add-alternates – including additional dredging – could happen sooner rather than later. The expansion still includes 45 additional slips and several hundred feet of extra moorage space for larger vessels. Bell told the group that there are currently 90 people on the waiting list for a spot in the harbor.

But Bell maintained that the plan is still just a concept. And details can be changed. With the recent revelation that another permit is needed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the project will be delayed by up to a year. The section 408 permit will require various studies, one of which has to prove that the additional wave barrier won’t compromise the rubble mound, which was an Army Corps project.

“This permit caught us by surprise, it caught PND by total surprise and really the Army Corps in Anchorage … they were unprepared for this as well,” said Bell.

Audience members raised questions about how the engineers didn’t see this coming. They also asked whether the borough could purchase the rubble mound from the Corps to avoid lengthening the process. To that Bell replied:

“It’s not as simple as just saying give us ownership of it and we’re free of the 408 because they want other studies. We’re changing the federally designated route so we still have to apply it. They still want us to do the studies on the refraction of the waves and the sediment and so even if we were to take ownership of it which I don’t know that we would do or are able to do, it still wouldn’t break us free from that permit.”

Borough manager Dave Sosa also addressed the concern about why no one saw this coming. He said that the permit went into effect in Alaska in July 2014, and the harbor project in Haines is among the first in the state to require it.

“Lucky us, here we are now,” Sosa said. “So, we’re going through this and we’re learning, the Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska is learning, so we’re still trying to understand the full impacts.”

At the meeting, Bell also briefed the public on the funding future for various aspects of the harbor expansion, including a two-lane launch ramp. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has agreed to put up $500,000 for three years for the ramp with the borough on the hook to match 25 percent. Bell said he will request $100,000 a year from the borough’s capital improvement project, or CIP,  budget until the ramp is funded. Fish and Game will require wave protection, the funding match and enough parking for the agency’s trucks and trailers.

But is a two-lane launch ramp necessary for such a relatively small harbor?

“Has there been a market study to determine why we need a two-lane launch ramp?” asked resident Debra Schnabel.

Sosa responded that most of the cost comes from getting a ramp in at all, so why not add an extra lane for significantly smaller cost while it’s being built. He added that the cost associated with a study like that is between $25 – and $45,000 and that borough staff is already looking into it. He said the 408 permit delay might allow for more time to actually complete a study on whether there is justification for a larger ramp. Bell added that he will also request $100,000 from the CIP for harbor aesthetics in FY17 and between $25- and $50,000 in FY18 and 19. More money from the CIP for the harbor project will be requested in coming years for moorage floats. State tier II grants, which require a 50 percent match, are also a potential funding source. For now, it’s a bit of waiting game until more is known about exactly what the surprise permit will entail.