The above is an image of the “Concept 4” design for the new marine haulout at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

Sitka has officially adopted a plan for construction of a new marine haul out at its industrial park. The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (7-25-23) approved the $14-million project – despite being far short of the full amount. Officials nevertheless hope that getting started with the bare bones will both support Sitka’s marine industry, and attract future funding to complete the job. 

Many meetings concerning Sitka’s long-awaited marine haulout have been packed to the gills with stakeholders. But this time, the assembly reviewed the final haulout plan before a mostly empty room. Assembly member Thor Christianson, in a nod to the board of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park and city staff, thought he knew why. 

“The fact that there’s nobody here is a testament to the job you guys did. Because some of us were at these meetings where there was a lot of people, and a lot of them were really mad. And there’s nobody here [tonight] because you guys have included everybody in the process,” Christianson said. “If you ever want to show why this is working, it’s behind you, and the fact that there isn’t a whole bunch of mad fishermen here right now.”

Sitka’s been without a haulout for around a year-and-a-half, leaving the fishing fleet scrambling for options to repair and maintain their boats. A 2022 ballot proposition to spend $8.2 million dollars of city money building a haulout for the fleet at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park was a slam dunk, winning around 80-percent voter support. But with costs on the rise, the most recent estimate for the first phase of the project is roughly $14 million. But industrial park director Garry White said that shortfall had gotten a little smaller. 

“We were successful in getting a Denali Commission grant, we found out last Thursday, and that grant is going to be in the amount of $1 million,” White said. “And that money can be used for purchasing a travelift or some type of boat hoist piece of infrastructure. So it looks like our delta that we’re going to need is about $4.8 million, which is still substantial.” 

The goal is to get the bare bones project done as quickly as possible. Then add on more later as funding comes through, like additional washdown pads, boat parking, and an office and restrooms. Assembly member Crystal Duncan asked if the facility would be operable by January 2025. Municipal engineer Michael Harmon said he hoped construction, at least, would be done by then

“I’m more in control of that piece so I’m feeling decently confident,” Harmon said. “There’s always risk factors, of course to projects, and permitting, we have it on the shorter side of our window that we’re counting on…and I put that as the highest risk to schedule right now.”

Whether it takes a year-and-a-half or longer, with the plan in place, White and Harmon said they could begin to move more efficiently as they roll out construction. Voter support, White said, had been integral to securing the Denali Commission grant, a tactic he felt would help them win more funds down the line. Assembly member Chris Ystad thanked White and Harmon for their work so far on the project. 

“You guys did what you said. You were gonna have a lot of public involvement, a lot of industry involvement and you guys did it,” Ystad said. “And I really appreciate all that, because I felt like as a fisherman and future user of this yard, you know, you let us all have a voice.” 

The haulout plan passed unanimously.