The map accompanying the Sitka Community Boatyard proposal. If approved, most of the remaining available lots (shown in yellow) eventually could be leased for the project.

The board of Sitka’s industrial park has determined that a grassroots proposal for a new marine haulout facility is worth pursuing further — but wants to hammer out a few details before sending the deal to the assembly.

Find the complete Sitka Community Boatyard proposal, and the Gary Paxton Industrial Park request for proposals, in the May 12, 2021 board packet.

The board of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park met on May 12 to consider a proposal from a yet-to-be-created organization called the Sitka Community Boatyard.

The board has been struggling to find an acceptable vendor to build and operate a haulout on public property, since the announcement in 2019 by the community’s lone private boatyard, Halibut Point Marine, that it would be closing down in the near future to focus its attention on developing its cruise ship port.

The board has entertained previous offers, none of which quite fit the bill, for lack of funding or a compelling strategy.

Sample cost comparisons: Sitka Community Boatyard vs. engineering estimate. (Note: this is a representative sample offered by Linda Behnken in her presentation. See a full cost breakdown in the 5-12-21 GPIP board packet.)

Haulout/Washdown AreaSitka Community BoatyardPND Engineering
Ramp upgrade/100-ton trailer$3.21 million
150-ton travelift, retaining wall, pier$2.2 million
Washdown pad/water treatment$300,000$860,000
Hydronic boilers/heated restrooms$2.58 million
Electric Porta-Potties$100,000

The Sitka Community Boatyard, however, is backed by some serious experience in the seafood industry, and a detailed financial plan — which they first presented to the industrial park in April. Linda Behnken is the director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, and the board president of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. She delivered a revised plan with phased-in approach that starts with a 150-ton travelift and washdown pad, and which could be scaled up over time as marine service businesses launch or relocate at the park.

“And we’ve also I think, indicated to you that we have backup plans for financing each of the components for moving ahead with the boatyard,” said Behnken. “What we hope you’ll do today is take all that into account score proposal and move this ahead. We do believe it’s very responsive to the goals that you have set for use of this area and for meeting the needs of the community and the fishing fleet.”

While there’s no other competing proposal in play at the moment, the industrial park board does have a set of numbers to compare against the Sitka Community Boatyard’s offer: a 2019 preliminary design estimate provided by PND Engineering, which tops out several million dollars more than Sitka Community Boatyard’s plan.

But there are differences, Behnken explained, like the hydronic boilers that would heat the washdown area and restrooms described by PND, versus the electric porta-potties proposed by her group. Behnken said that the Sitka Community Boatyard was a starting point.

“In sum, the PND estimate is for a Cadillac version with $412,000 in consulting fees and yard that cannot be an operation in until 2023 or ‘24, whereas our proposal gets Sitka working hard in 2022, with the potential to upgrade all aspects if BUILD grants come through in the future,” Behnken explained.

Other organizers of the Sitka Community Boatyard advocated for the proposal, including shipwright Jeremy Serka, and fishermen Dan Falvey and Jeff Farvour.

Stephen Rhoads is a fisherman who now works in management at the Seafood Producer’s Cooperative. He urged the industrial park board to look beyond the numbers.

“And I just want to speak to the human factor of this proposal that we look at the people and organizations behind it,” Rhoads said. “ASFT (Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust), Jeremy Serka, Linda (Behnken), and Dan Falvey, it says a lot to what they’re going to do for the community that this isn’t smoke and mirrors. There’s transparency. And I think that having an entity like ASFT to guide this through the long term goals of the project, is really key to making it happen. That it’s a public private partnership. But there’s actually a long term entity there to drive it.”

(Note: Stephen Rhoads serves on the board of KCAW)

The Sitka Community Boatyard — once it is fully developed — would occupy much of the remaining space at the industrial park. The vision is that the marine trades could establish permanent shops in the area.

Shipwright Mike Nurco was supportive of the plan.

“I would just like to say that I’m really looking forward to a full scale boatyard where I can do something other than work out of my tailgate, where I don’t have to set up and break down every single time,” said Nurco.

Lance McCutcheon is a troller based in Sitka. The pause in cruise ship tourism allowed Allen Marine to reopen its boatyard over the past year — and McCutcheon considered himself lucky to be able to get work on his boat done there.

Many of Sitka’s fleet of 600 commercial fishing vessels have had to outsource work, and he thinks the Sitka Community Boatyard proposal could change that.

“It’s a necessary project that we have here with all the boats we have in town, and we really shouldn’t be going to Wrangell for this kind of thing and it will just be great for the local economy,” said McCutcheon. “ So, you know, whatever we can do to get this proposal through. I think I speak for all the fishermen that we need to get this done, get something started.”

The industrial park board went into executive session to evaluate the proposal. When it reconvened one hour and twenty minutes later, the board found the proposal responsive, with a score of 65. Members of the board and the boatyard group will meet to negotiate some outstanding issues, before the proposal wins final approval and moves to the Sitka assembly.