After months of back and forth, considering proposals, and then returning to the drawing board,  the city is finally moving forward with a haulout project at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (7-13-21) it reviewed a proposal from a new entity called the Sitka Community Boatyard. The group plans to fund and develop a marine haulout in several phases, including a 150-ton-travelift and a washdown pad on a seven-acre lot at the park. 

“We need a boatyard by next year, and we won’t get there unless we get started,” said Linda Behnken. She directs the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, and is the board president of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust.  The Trust is spearheading the project along with Sitka Custom Marine and a coalition of local fishermen.

“As you know, we have over 600 commercial boats homeported here,” she said. “Every one of those boats has to haul every year to meet insurance requirements and to be safe and be efficient.”

Behnken said they need a lease to get the ball rolling, especially to secure financing and permits.

The group projects it will cost around $2.9 million, a lower price tag than some previous haulout proposals considered by the Assembly. The price tag is also lower than the RAISE grant the city applied for to fund a haulout project. Although it’s still unknown whether the city will receive the federal funding, administrator John Leach said he wanted to proceed with the haulout project as if no additional money was coming in.

“I think if if the RAISE grant does turn out to be a reality, then we come back and talk about how this plugs in,” he said. “We’re giving them a bit by bit chance to get there. And if this grant doesn’t happen, we’re still committed to work with this group to push this boatyard forward.”

Both Behnken and GPIP director Garry White said the project timeline was “aggressive.” And if the boatyard doesn’t meet goals, the city has the ability to cancel the lease and take over the project. But Member Valorie Nelson said she’d heard some concerns and wanted to make sure the assembly would get another stamp of approval on the final lease. 

“I have had concerns from fishermen in the community that maybe you know, we’re rushing because we feel this is a crisis,” she said. “But we do have to make sure we’re making the best decision for the community as a whole.”

The assembly unanimously voted to direct the city administrator to draw up a lease based on the Sitka Community Boatyard Proposal.  A final lease will come before the Assembly for final approval at a future meeting.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly…

  • Rejected a proposed ballot question to levy a 5% marijuana sales tax and indefinitely postponed a ballot question to levy a $0.03 per gallon fuel excise tax.
  • Approved a $1 million dollar appropriation for the Lincoln Street Paving Project. The money will come from the $1 million dollar donation from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Read more here.
  • Discussed and amended a letter of non-objection to the issuance of a permit for 10-year aquatic farm site lease of of state tidelands in No Thorofare Bay. The amendments included language asking the state to assume responsibility for prevention and mitigation of potential invasive species, and asked for an extension on the state’s comment period for the project and allow all Sitka residents to give comment. It passed on a 4-1 vote with Member Valorie Nelson opposed.
  • Approved the City and Borough of Sitka funding priorities from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.
  • Approved the Sitka Community Hospital (SCH) building sale request for proposals (RFP) evaluation and selection team on a 4-1 vote with Member Valorie Nelson opposed.
  • Approved a temporary lease between the City and Borough of Sitka and Secon, Inc. for municipal property at Granite Creek Lease Area Site 7.