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Public weighs in on harbor project

Aurora Harbor reconstruction includes major changes

Posted: October 17, 2012 - 11:11pm
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Port Engineer Gary Gillette, right, discusses the rebuilding of Aurora Harbor with Port Director Carl Uchytil, center, and Docks and Harbors boardmember Tom Donek during an open house at the Juneau Yacht Club on Wednesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Port Engineer Gary Gillette, right, discusses the rebuilding of Aurora Harbor with Port Director Carl Uchytil, center, and Docks and Harbors boardmember Tom Donek during an open house at the Juneau Yacht Club on Wednesday.

Members of the public were able to mingle with representatives from Juneau Docks and Harbors and PND Engineers, Inc., at an open house Wednesday evening on the planned reconstruction of Aurora Harbor.

The harbor was built in 1966. Its infrastructure is aging now, and Docks and Harbors has long sought to rebuild and improve it.

A big part of those improvements is a reconfiguration of the harbor’s moorage float capacity.

“There’s actually fewer spaces,” said Dick Somerville, vice president of PND Engineers, the engineering firm on the project. “Overall, boats are becoming larger, and the demand for the smaller spaces has been waning. So we’re going to be removing a lot of the smaller slips — not all of them. There’ll be slips of all sizes. But the CBJ has taken a hard look at their waitlist, and they’ve taken a look at what they sell in terms of moorage, and where they haven’t sold moorage for years … we’re changing those into larger stalls to accommodate the people on the waitlist.”

The project will be completed in phases. While the overall price tag is expected to top $20 million, according to Somerville, Phase I is forecast to cost about $4 million. That funding has already been secured, with half coming from passenger fees and the Harbor Fund, and the other half coming from a state Municipal Harbor Facilities Grant.

Floats A and B, the southernmost of Aurora Harbor’s lettered floats, will be replaced in Phase I of the project. The section of the headwalk float to which they are attached will be replaced as well. A small boat underpass will be added to the south approach dock for vessels mooring on the shore side of the headwalk float. New utilities are also set to be installed.

Boats displaced by Phase I work will be directed to the Intermediate Vessel Float or Harris Harbor once construction gets underway, Harbormaster Dwight Tajon said.

“Temporarily, you’re looking at the people on A float, B float and the inside of the (headwalk) float” who will be displaced, said Tajon. Since they can be accommodated elsewhere, he added, “It won’t be too bad.”

Phase I is currently in the planning and design phase. Attendees at the open house were invited to fill out comment forms and submit them, or even draw on color maps of the site plan to indicate where they would like to see changes made.

Feedback on the concept plan, according to one sign at the event, can also be submitted via mail, fax or email before Nov. 1 for consideration.

Somerville said the current timeframe has the project going out to bid in the middle of next year. Once floats are fabricated, likely by a contractor somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, and shipped up to Juneau, construction can begin.

“At the earliest, construction would be fall of 2013 or spring of 2014,” Somerville said. “The ultimate goal is try to be complete by the fall of 2014.”

The open house was generally lively, with users of the harbor talking amongst themselves or with people like Somerville, Tajon, Port Director Carl Uchytil and others involved with the project.

Some attendees were not satisfied with the plan as presented.

“These boathouses here are too close together,” said Harry Keller, pointing to one of the site plan maps provided for members of the public. “Snow’s got nowhere to go when it comes off the top of them.”

Keller’s boathouse sank under a heavy snow load several years ago, and he made it clear that he remains concerned about the effect of winter weather on the harbor.

“Right now it’s 8, 7, 6,” said Keller, referring to the planned number of boathouses on Floats E, F and G respectively. “Should be 7, 7, 7. Move one down here, spread ‘em out a little bit so the snow’s got somewhere to go, rather than letting it take the boathouse down.”

The floats in question are not part of Phase I. Somerville said it remains to be determined when the next phase of the project will begin, or precisely what it will encompass.

Keller also suggested that de-icers should be incorporated into the plan to prevent freezing.

Another harbor user, Linda Kadrlik, said she would like to see “little tweaks” made as well. But on the whole, she said, she is happy with the project.

“It’s way long overdue, and it’s wonderful that we have the money to do it,” said Kadrlik, whose boat is moored at Float A. “And I think it’s great having these meetings so that we can provide input, too.”

Mayor Merrill Sanford, who was sworn in earlier this week, said he came to the open house to learn more about the details of the project. He expressed hope that the rebuilt Aurora Harbor will last another half-century or so, although he acknowledged the difficulties involved in such a major overhaul.

“It’s always hard with the changing,” Sanford said. “And of course, some of these people have had boat stalls in the same place … for a long, long time. When you go to move them, or change the length of the stalls and everything, it affects them. They’ve gotten used to sliding into the stall at a certain place into the harbor. … People get upset about having to move.”

But, Sanford added, “We need to rebuild it, and we need to reconfigure it to meet our needs.”

Docks and Harbors was a beneficiary of Ballot Proposition 1’s passage earlier this month. The $25 million bond issue it authorizes includes $7 million marked for a future phase of the Aurora Harbor project.

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

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