Are we gonna need a bigger pier? That was one question presented to the Gary Paxton Industrial Park board of directors last week (1-12-23), as it discussed how to get Sitka’s highly anticipated marine haulout project off the ground. 

Last fall, just over 80% of Sitka voters approved $8.2 Million in city funding to build a haulout at the city-owned industrial park. The facility will serve the fishing fleet, which currently has no way to pull large vessels out of the water for maintenance, locally. 

But the language voters approved for the haulout wasn’t highly specific– the main requirement was a travelift that can haul up to a 150 ton boat out of the water.  That leaves a lot of the design up to city and industrial park officials.

One unanswered question is how wide the haulout’s pier should be. GPIP director Garry White told board members that a wider pier could expand the haulout’s customer base.  

“I had a conversation this week with a representative from Allen Marine, they suggested that if we made it wide enough to accommodate their boats, they would use the heck out of this haulout and they need 32 [feet],” White said. “So somewhere we gotta settle on how wide our piers are going to be. And I think that’s going to take some more discussion,” White added, saying that he originally suggested 25 feet, but now he’s leaning toward 32.

A wider pier would likely cost more money, though it’s not clear how much. The industrial park’s board has yet to vote on the question or consider detailed proposals. Development is essentially on hold while the city works to hire a project manager.  

But there’s still plenty to talk about in the meantime, and White said the more specifics the board could nail down, the less money they’d end up paying a consultant down the line. In an hour-long discussion with city staff, board members considered everything from the recommended width of the pier, to how many washdown pads the facility will include, to exactly where the lift will be located in the park. City Administrator John Leach said one main thing to remember was they would never be able to build a structure that serves every possible user.

“We know this envelope 97% of our vessels fall in. And if we can serve that 97%, just in that first chunk, you know, then there are little add on pieces after that,” Leach said. “Yes, we would hear everything. But initially, we’ve got to get the one that fits the biggest need.”

White, the park director, said next steps include goal setting, a joint work session with the Port and Harbors Commission, and lots and lots of public input as the city designs the new facility.