The Sitka Marine Haulout Workgroup told the assembly on Thursday that Sitka’s boat yard should be developed under a Master Plan, to accommodate the majority of vessels in the community. “There’s no one-size-fits-all,” said workgroup member Jeff Farvour. The group believes that Sitka’s industrial park has enough acreage to accommodate Conex shelters like those used in Wrangell (pictured here).

The City of Sitka is looking for someone to build a marine haulout — in a hurry.

At a work session Thursday night (1-30-20), the Sitka assembly advised the administration to have bidding document ready by the end of February, in the hope of having a new haulout operating by the spring of 2021.

Just one thing stands in the way: There’s no ready money for the project.

The idea for a new marine haulout kicked into high gear over the winter, when the owner of Sitka’s current haulout, Chris McGraw, informed the community that he would be closing his boatyard within a couple of years in order to expand his cruise ship terminal.

In December, he offered to build the city a new marine haulout at Sitka’s industrial park in exchange for 17 acres of undeveloped land near his present cruise dock, but that idea went aground on municipal procurement procedures, and he subsequently withdrew the offer to trade — but his plans to close his yard haven’t changed.

So now Sitka is moving ahead on its own steam.

\“Are we going to try and do this ourselves in-house, by borrowing money or finding grant funds, or are we going to go out and take a shot and see what the private sector can do,” asked Garry White, the executive director of Sitka’s industrial park, posing the problem to the joint work session of his board and the Sitka Assembly.

White said it wasn’t an either/or decision. The assembly could keep its options open throughout the process.

“We could start with the private sector development and if that doesn’t work out, come back and do it ourselves. Or go down two paths at the same time,” he said. “There’s multiple ways to skin this cat.”

A haulout at the industrial park has been on the table for a long time. White said that his board first solicited proposals for the estimated $7 million-dollar project in 2009, and got no viable offers. But, he noted, there was a global recession in 2009. Now, interested parties were already knocking on his door: Two of them spoke at the work session, Dan Cooper and business partner Warren Kelly.

“As Dan said, all of our preliminary estimates do show that it’s something we can do — with the experience that we have with the private sector and with the help that we can retain — for considerably less than the figures of $7- to $7.5 million,” said Kelly.

Cooper and Kelly only spoke to the merits of a privately-run boatyard. They didn’t say that they were bringing any investment to the table. In fact, a publicly-built, privately-run haulout looks like where the assembly is going. Shipwright Jeremy Serka said that this approach made economic sense for the fleet.

“I think any private enterprise that’s going to come and actually build this is not going to make their payments by hauling boats,” said Serka. “They’re not going to put in the infrastructure — they’re not going to buy a lift — and be able to pay for it by hauling boats.”

Serka said that the business would also need land — presumably to develop for the marine services industry. That view was seconded by fisherman Mike Nurco.

“We definitely want to make sure that there’s room for all the vendors, no matter who runs the yard,” Nurco said.

The city does have some resources available for the project — but nowhere near $7 million. There’s the potential sale of the cold storage building (aka Marine Services Center), the Sitka Permanent Fund, and even revenue bonds. Mayor Gary Paxton proposed this latter idea: Although he wasn’t excited about it, he acknowledged that Sitka would likely be funding this project without any help from Juneau or Washington DC.

“It’s always easy to say Let’s go look for money from the Feds or the state,” Paxton said. “That’s a hard thing. We can do that — and we are doing that — but I think we have to look quite frankly at our private sector and our City and Borough of Sitka to help do this.”

The assembly directed acting administrator Hugh Bevan to draft a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) for a haulout that uses a travelift or hydraulic trailer,  and is receptive to the idea of a public/private partnership. The successful proposal will also have to be accessible to the public, even if privately managed, and must not interfere with the existing barge haulout ramp. Bevan said he would fast-track the document and have it ready to advertise by the end of February.