The Sitka Assembly has approved a request from the Gary Paxton Industrial Park board to enter into contract negotiations with WC Enterprises to build and operate a marine haulout in Sitka. 

The company proposes completing the project in several phases. Phase one would be completed by next June, with the full project finished by 2025. 

Dan Cooper, who drafted the proposal with his partner Kelly Warren, said they hoped to fund the first phase with a loan from the city’s economic development fund, which they would then pay back over 15 years.

“Initially we need to get this haulout facility in by the middle of next year, that’s the target,” he said. “In order to do that we’ve trimmed everything that’s unnecessary, and looked at a budget for what is necessary, of being about 1.5 million dollars.”

There were concerns about the proposal when it came before the GPIP board in April that came up again before the assembly, specifically over the size of the company’s proposed hoist. The WC Enterprises plan uses a 300 ton travelift which might be too big for many of Sitka’s mid- and small sized fishing vessels. Kelly Warren said they were working with a marine haulout company that builds travelifts to design one that can service boats of all sizes.

“The big boats aren’t the ‘meat of the fleet’ and the financial success of any shipyard in Sitka, it’s just essential that it has the ability to haul the vessels of all shapes and sizes,” he said.

But he said they weren’t yet sure if they would be able to haul boats smaller than 35 feet.   

The park board has been moving quickly after Sitka’s only haul out, Halibut Point Marine, announced it would be closing within the next two years.

During public comment, Rob Allen said the assembly should slow down and look into other options, like working with Allen Marine, which recently began advertising for haulout and repair service at its Jamestown Bay location. 

“So much is changing in the economy in Alaska and in the country right now, that a slow down in this process makes the most sense,” Allen wrote. “Discussions with Halibut Point Marine and Allen Marine could be beneficial as their business imperatives have likely shifted with the very low probability of large cruise ships visiting Alaska in 2020, and a high risk of limited visits in 2021. The unknowns for both companies might give the city more time to explore options at GPIP.”

Ultimately the assembly approved advancing to the negotiation phase with WC Enterprises on a 5-2 vote with members Richard Wein and Steven Eisenbeisz opposed.

Assembly finalizes budget

The Sitka Assembly has passed a budget for next year that includes rate increases for most enterprise funds.

Electric, water and wastewater funds will see twp percent increases. Solid waste will see a rate increase upwards of five percent with a two percent increase at the transfer station. And the harbor fund will see a five percent rate increase. 

Several residents spoke out against a resolution to increase moorage rates. Kari Johnson-Fish said the city should hold off on the increases, during a turbulent time for the fishing fleet.

“With all the restaurants being closed, the fishing prices are in the bucket,” she said. “And increasing our rates at this time isn’t really supporting our environment and it’s not supporting our economy. ”

The general fund budget, electric fund budget, water, wastewater solid waste and harbor budgets passed on 5-2 votes with members Valorie Nelson and Richard Wein opposed. The airport, marine services, and Gary Paxton Industrial Park budgets passed on a 6-1 vote with member Wein opposed. 

The measure to increase permanent and temporary moorage rates passed 5-2 with members Valorie Nelson and Kevin Mosher opposed.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly…

  • Discussed the future distribution of federal CARES Act funding, although Sitka’s total share of the money isn’t yet known. The assembly decided to hold a work session on how to distribute the funds at a future meeting
  • Unanimously authorized the municipal administrator to apply for several grants with the United States Department of Transportation, to fund repairs at the Marine Services Center 
  • Unanimously passed four resolutions to move toward refinancing general obligation, electric, and harbor bonds with the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank 
  • Postponed the consideration of the city’s Athletic Field Use Policy and Guidelines, as recommended by the Parks and Recreation Committee 
  • Waived and accepted several late applications filed for the Senior Citizen Exemption to real property taxes (Unanimous)