The utility dock (at right) was built in 1958, and has not had any upkeep since the City of Sitka acquired the industrial park 19 years ago. While there has been broad support for Hanson Maritime to acquire the property, some are concerned over whether the dock will interfere with long-range plans for a marine services center in the park. Marine tradesmen Jeremy Serka and Mike Nurco both raised questions about the sale: “I want to make sure this doesn’t limit our plans for a shipyard so important to Sitka,” Nurco testified. (GPIP image)

In a deal nearly a year in the making, the City of Sitka has sold a derelict dock at its industrial park. And although property has changed hands, no money has.

Hanson Maritime first put in a bid on the 61 year-old dock in November of 2018 — if “bid” is the correct term. When Turnagain Marine Construction last year bailed out on its offer to demolish the dock for $90,000, Lee Hanson stepped forward with a proposal to acquire the dock for his marine salvage business, and rebuild it at his own expense.

The associated tidelands that the dock occupies are valued at only $67,000, so the $22,000 difference between that amount and the anticipated demolition cost of $90,000 is essentially Hanson’s purchase offer — hence he’s “buying” the dock without writing a check.

The board of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park and the assembly have supported the idea from the beginning, but some in the public are still scratching their heads. Two spoke up to question the deal, both involved in the marine trades.

The old utility dock is right in the middle of what many hope becomes a public boatyard and marine services center, to replace a private haul out expected to close within two years. 

Mike Nurco has been a shipwright in Sitka for 16 years.

“I want to make sure that it’s not going to limit our plans for a shipyard that is so important to Sitka,” he said.

Nurco testified that there were many details yet to be settled about the proposed boat yard, and that the dock sale was possibly premature.

Sitka’s interim administrator Hugh Bevan, who has also served on the board of the industrial park, suggested that plans were farther along than many people realized.

“I’m confident that we’ve got the ability to figure out how to accommodate everything out there,” said Bevan. “Some things might get a little skinnier — like this ramp — but timing is everything, and this proposal to build this new travel lift at Sawmill Cove is definitely something that has to happen, and I would expect the whole concept to be coming to the assembly before the end of December.”

Although the utility dock transaction has hung up on other issues — mainly the potential for conflict with the moorage of large ships at the park’s new floating, multi-purpose dock — they’ve all been largely resolved. This decision really boiled down to whether three major purposes could all be served in one relatively small area of industrial waterfront: A privately-owned salvage dock, a public multi-purpose dock, and a marine haul out and boat yard.

Assembly member Kevin Mosher asked municipal attorney Brian Hanson — no relation to Lee Hanson — to spell it out.

Mosher – Lee can still have his operation, and if we had a dock, or a haul out at that ramp area, that could still work. Correct?

Brian Hanson –  Right. The concern all along has been what kind of conflict selling the property to Hanson Maritime would create to the haul out ramp, and that’s why we’ve been haggling over the provisions that would properly protect both the floating dock, and the haul out ramp areas. And when you vote on this one, you’re voting on a document that recognizes that there could be conflicts, and those conflicts could be resolved by strictly following the rules of the road, and will allow that haul out to be properly used.

During public testimony, park director Garry White said his board fully supported the sale, and that a marine haul out remains their top priority.

Assembly members Valorie Nelson and Richard Wein were concerned that the purchase and sale agreement did not include a right of first refusal for the City of Sitka, should Hanson Maritime ever sell the property. Nelson said that she was just looking after the interests of Sitka’s tax payers. Other members of the assembly, however, were reluctant to drag out what has already been a nearly 12 month-long process into yet another meeting over one single detail. The city, as member Thor Christianson said, could always exercise eminent domain if the property were ever needed in the future for a public use. “We have the ultimate hammer,” he said.

The assembly voted 5-0 to approve the purchase and sale agreement of the old utility dock to Hanson Maritime. Assembly members Kevin Knox and Steven Eisenbeisz were absent.