My turn: Take an interest in Juneau harbors

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Take back the harbors? It would help if people would just take an interest in them. Only the state - as the former owner - could "take back the harbors." Given the decades of neglect Juneau's small boat harbors suffered under state ownership, no serious person can suggest a return to that system.

Every member of the Docks and Harbors Board would like to see lower rates but city ordinance require us to pay our own way. This law requires us to pay for operations, maintenance and replacement of the harbors out of revenues we collect. The same holds true for the cruise ship docks. We collect enough from the cruise industry to pay for operations and maintenance and are working on collecting a fee to substantially upgrade the docks. No harbor funds are used for the cruise ship docks and the federal law prohibits us from using passenger fee proceeds in the harbors unless we are directly addressing cruise ship visitor impacts.

The members of the board and our staff are always looking for ways to help us with the harbor cost and to stop further need for fee increases. We have been working with the Legislature to set up and fund a matching grant fund for harbor repairs and replacement. The fund was set up two years ago and funded last year with $10 million. Unfortunately, half of it was vetoed so we did not receive any funds the first year. But we are in line for a grant this year that will allow us to completely renovate the old part of Douglas Harbor. Board members and staff are always looking at other grant sources such as the state fisheries development grant that we are using to repair the cranes and power at the Downtown Fisheries Terminal, and the $1 million grant from the Denali Commission to help pay for the Auke Bay Loading Facility.

As for the placement of the loading facility, it was not our first choice but after eight years of red tape and hundreds of thousands of dollars of permitting, that is where we ended up. People wanting to know why it costs so much to build on the waterfront in Juneau can look at this as an example. When we started working on this project in 2000, the estimated cost was $3.5 million but after jumping through all the hoops and getting the permits, it is costing over $7 million to build. The days of plopping a harbor project wherever you want are long gone.

As the chairman of the Docks and Harbor Board, I personally would like to thank the members of the board for all the hours that they put in keeping Juneau harbors operating and working on improvement projects. As for the staff, I thank them also not only for doing a good job but also being on the front lines taking most of the hits for what has to be done to rebuild Juneau's harbors.

As for "taking back the harbors," please just take an interest in them and help find realistic ways to save on and pay for the cost.

• Don Etheridge is chair of the Docks and Harbors Board in Juneau.

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