Committee approves $120M dock upgrade

State still holds title for land, city fears project cost could increase

The final contract for a nearly $120 million cruise ship berth upgrade passed 5-3 out of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee Wednesday night, but only after a bout of frustrated debate. During a financial update on the project, Docks and Harbors Director Carl Uchytil revealed that the submerged tidelands the docks are to be built over do not belong to the city yet.

“We were always led to believe this was going to happen — this was a done deal,” Uchytil told the Juneau Empire after the meeting. “We’ve done the heavy work, this was supposed to be the easy part.”

Despite a December 2011 CBJ request to the State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, the title to the land had not been passed over as of Wednesday’s meeting — a fact that angered several committee members.

“One of the most disturbing things about this is we found out about this issue … this late,” assembly member Randy Wanamaker said. “We have been making decisions without knowing everything we were supposed to know.”

The reason for the frustration stems largely from the time constraints the city is under with the winning bidder on the project.

The proposed contract must be signed by Dec. 27 of this year, or the contractor may up the price to factor in increased commodity prices.

If the committee did not pass the contract on to the full assembly Wednesday, the necessary timelines needed for an ordinance to go from introduction to final approval may have gone past the Dec. 27 deadline, thus costing the city.

“It would have been nice to have this all straightened out six months ago,” said Mayor Merrill Sanford, who added he is not concerned the land transfer will not be completed in time.

Should the contract falter — either by the city not being prepared to sign by the deadline or the city not owning the land — there could be financial implications.

“If for some reason we have to stop the process and go back to bid again, we’re talking about cost increases all around,” Sanford said.

The state has issued a preliminary decision saying the land will be transferred in early December after a 30-day period of public notice, barring a previously unknown concern that proves it’s in the public’s best interest for the state to retain the land.

“If you don’t like the project or you’re against the project for whatever reason, that’s not substantive,” Uchytil said.

Shortly before the committee called for the vote, he added, “I can’t give you absolute assurance, but I think the risks are minimal.”

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