“I think the voters gave us $8.1 million of their money to build a haulout,” municipal administrator John Leach told the GPIP board on Monday (11-21-22). Under the “charter” (or planning document) drafted for the project, the objective would be to construct a 150-ton haulout and washdown pads in Phase 1, and then develop the boatyard further in Phase 2. (GPIG image)

The assembly’s approval last night (11-22-22) of the final transfer of $8.1 million dollars from the Sitka Permanent Fund to the Gary Paxton Industrial Park fund for the construction of a marine haul out, doesn’t mean that there will be a groundbreaking ceremony any time soon. There are still a lot of questions about what $8.1 million dollars can actually buy, and how to get the best value for the money. The board of directors of the industrial park took a hard look at a planning document for the haul out – called a “charter” – on Monday afternoon (11-21-22), and agreed to forward it to the assembly for further review.

The estimated total project cost of a marine haul out and boatyard at Sitka’s industrial park is $12 million, about $4 million more than voters agreed to withdraw from the Sitka Permanent Fund. Still, some feel $8 million can go pretty far, especially if the city incorporates the legwork and fundraising of a previous effort by the local nonprofit Sitka Community Boatyard.

Read the complete GPIP Haul Out Project Charter.

Linda Behnken is the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, and one of the principal organizers of the Sitka Community Boatyard.

“We put a lot of work into figuring out pricing for building this yard,” Behnken told the GPIP board. “And our sense was, we could get it done for less than $8 million. I understand the city has ways they have to do things that might – will – drive the costs up. But we think it’s really important that in building this yard, you build it for success. And we’re pretty worried that if you build a yard that doesn’t have utilities, it’s not going to be built for success.”

The community boatyard group was poised to sign a lease to take on the project last year, but withdrew in the face of rising costs. Nevertheless, Behnken said that her organization had residual grant funding, price quotes, and other resources available if the city wanted to draw on them.

Municipal administrator John Leach believed it was premature to begin negotiating the operations  of a haul out that hadn’t been built yet. He felt the 80 percent majority of Sitka voters who approved the funding in October had sent a clear message.

“By approving that vote, they (voters) expect performance,” Leach said. “And we need to keep our eyes on the goal of this project. And what the voters approved is for us to build a haulout facility that was in the (ballot) question. I think we need to be very careful to not conflate building a haulout versus operating a haulout, and partnerships in a haulout. The voters gave us $8.1 million of their money to build a haulout.”

The approach to the project is somewhat open-ended. Public Works director Michael Harmon explained that a manager would be hired to oversee the project, and then to move to a final design based on available resources. The same process had been used for the deepwater dock at the industrial park. Park director Garry White said CMAR, or Construction Management at Risk, allows a project to grow incrementally. 

“Now, as Michael just said, we’re going to try to build as much as we can with the money we have available,” said White. “But I just don’t want folks being blindsided, that once we get boats out of the water and they’re like, ‘Wait, you promised me a whole lot.’ I’m telling you right now, I don’t think we’re promising you a whole lot. We promise you as much all we can build for $8-plus million.”

The project is divided into two phases: Construction of the haulout, and then further development of the uplands. The charter schedule identifies the completion date for an operational haulout as February 1, 2025. Park board member Mike Johnson agreed that the timeline could be streamlined if the board homed in on what was needed, versus what was wanted.

“I think that the public is really going to expect us to get boats out of the water as soon as possible,” Johnson said. “And as Mr. Harmon said, there’s room in here to potentially accelerate that path, depending on how we as a board handle this, and how fast we can get input and decide exactly what we want, in black and white, to the extent that’s possible.”

The board approved the charter and sent it on to the assembly. If the assembly signs on, the next step will be to recruit and hire a project manager – called a Port Planner – who will be on the job no later than February of next year.