Docks & Harbors meeting canceled, but engineer says full steam ahead on project

The planning committee for Juneau Docks and Harbors did not meet as scheduled Thursday evening, so the port engineer couldn’t update committee members on the Douglas Harbor project. Nonetheless, Port Engineer Gary Gillette said the meeting cancellation shouldn’t delay the progress Docks and Harbors has made to advance the long-stalled dredging project.

“We don’t have to have approval to continue working on it, so we were just updating them to let them know what we were doing,” Gillette said.

Gillette said meetings with state and federal officials earlier this month, on June 5 and June 6, had given him confidence that Docks and Harbors can come to terms with the other agencies to dredge the area.

“We recently had a meeting with agencies, and we believe we have a path forward,” said Gillette. “We’ve been looking at a number of options to deal with the dredge spoils from the harbor, and some of the agencies had issues with them, so that’s what the discussion was about.”

Docks and Harbors is studying three ways in which waste from the dredging can be disposed, Gillette said. Material scooped from the floor of the Gastineau Channel could be buried underwater elsewhere in the channel. It could also be stored on land, either in containment facilities near the water’s edge or somewhere in the uplands further from the water. Each approach comes with its own pros and cons, though Gillette said Docks and Harbors prefers the former, with the buried material being capped to prevent environmental contamination.

“That is the preferred option, and it mainly is just cost,” said Gillette. “It’s cheaper and easier to do, because it’s right nearby, and we can do it by barge as opposed to loading everything on trucks and driving it somewhere.”

Eric Kueffner, a member of the planning committee who also serves as chairman of the Docks and Harbors finance committee, said once the regulatory agencies signed off on the harbor dredging, it could go forward.

“They’ve had authority to proceed with Douglas for years,” he said of Docks and Harbors staff. “We have the funding. It’s just awaiting regulatory approval.”

Kueffner said he had planned on attending the meeting, which he said been shelved because not enough committee members could have attended for a quorum, to learn more about the progress on the project.

“It would have been great to get this update,” said Kueffner.

Thursday evening’s meeting was to be the first at which the full committee was briefed on the discussions with other agencies earlier this month, Gillette said.

It would have also provided an opportunity for Gillette to preview Docks and Harbors staff’s scheduled meeting with the Planning Commission next Tuesday. Information requested by the commissioners earlier this year on maneuverability around the planned cruise ship dock downtown is to be presented at that meeting, he said.

“We probably won’t get a chance to (brief the committee before the Planning Commission meeting) now, but it’s not required,” said Gillette. “We’ve been in discussion with them … so they know what’s going on.”

Docks and Harbors’ board of directors is set to meet next Thursday. At that time, Gillette said, he will be able to give the board a more informed update.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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