Gustavus residents fear lack of float may sink local businesses

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

Some Gustavus residents fear they will be unable to load and unload their boats, causing local businesses to suffer, if the state is unable to repair the town's broken float by June 1.

Department of Transportation officials promised Gustavus residents the float will be fixed by then. Jack Beedle, DOT design group chief and acting state harbor engineer, said emergency procurement procedures were used to speed delivery of materials.

Gustavus is about 60 miles west of Juneau near the mouth of Glacier Bay. The town is surrounded on three sides by Glacier Bay National Park and its only public dock is on Icy Strait and sits well above the water on tall pilings. A ramp extends down from the dock to a float, where boats can tie up and unload.

During a storm in April, the unprotected, state-owned float broke in half, leaving the dock and ramp, which is pulled up, useless. The only way residents and visitors can access boats is to use a ladder that extends down to the water. Residents are unable to carry large loads up and down the ladder.

"It is impossible with anything but a day pack," said resident Laura Coby-Scott.

The National Park Service has allowed residents to use its dock in Bartlett Cove, eight miles from the town in Glacier Bay National Park, until May 31. After that time, residents must procure a day-long permit to use the dock.

Coby-Scott said this permit is hard to come by. For the safety of the whales that inhabit the area, only a certain number of permits are given out each day, and those usually are reserved ahead of time by tour boats.

According to the National Park Service, the agency is under a court injunction and has recent federal legislation that prohibits it from increasing the number of entry permits available.

DOT's Beedle said pressure-treated timber was shipped from Seattle on Wednesday and will arrive in Gustavus by Monday. DOT will send maintenance and operations crew from Juneau to begin assembling a new float Tuesday. Barring any unusual circumstances, the float should be in the water by June 1.

"We know that they will work their hardest to make this deadline," said Coby-Scott, "but there are always unexpected problems that can come up."

Some Gustavus residents are concerned local businesses will suffer if the float is not repaired on time.

"Our town has around 20 charter boat operations that use the float every day in the summer, as well as many commercial boats and local community members," Coby-Scott said. "Without that float repaired, there will be no way other than climbing down a long ladder to access the fishing boats. This is almost impossible for most of the people that come to Alaska to go fishing, as most are elderly."

National Park Service officials said they cannot extend courtesy use of the Bartlett Cove dock beyond May 31.

"We would be in violation of both the court injunction and the legislation," said Tomie Lee, superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park. "We simply cannot do it legally."

The Park Service is involved in a series of public scoping meetings for an environmental impact statement, which addresses issues regarding numbers of entry permits. One scoping meeting will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Centennial Hall in Juneau.

Emily Wescott can be reached at

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