Bonds would fund harbors and sewer improvements

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

A vote next week could alleviate congestion at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay, replace old sewer and water lines in Douglas and extend water lines to North Tee Harbor. The projects are part of a $15 million general obligation bond package that will be on the Oct. 1 city ballot.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the October 1 municipal elections, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

But whether the timing is right will be a question for local voters.

Ballot Proposition 1 was proposed by Juneau Assembly members. Two-thirds of the funding would go to harbor projects, including upgrades at Douglas, Aurora and Harris harbors and a new commercial vessel loading facility in Auke Bay. The package also would fund sewer and water upgrades at Third Street in Douglas and at the Juneau Airport, install 3.8 miles of water lines to North Tee Harbor, begin the design of a West Juneau park and expand the day lodge at the Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch is urging people to vote yes and consider the package in total. For the most part, the proposition addresses basic community infrastructure, he said.

Bonds projects


The projects included in the city's $15 million bond proposition on the Oct. 1 ballot include:

• Auke Bay loading facility for commercial freight and fishing boats, $3.25 million. The bond funding would cover the initial phase of the project, including a freight ramp and drive-down loading float that likely would be built at Stabler Point. The total project could cost between $6 million and $8 million, according to the city.

• Douglas Harbor improvements, $3.5 million. The project would include a temporary breakwater, upgrades to Savikko Road and a new float system with up to 60 large boat slips.

• Aurora and Harris Harbors, $2.5 million. The money would be used to upgrade the electrical system at the downtown harbors and replace smaller floats to accommodate vessels longer than 32 feet. Some of the smaller floats would be moved to Statter Harbor in Auke Bay.

• Water and sewer improvements on Third Street in Douglas, $1.5 million. The project would replace water and sewer lines on Third Street in Douglas from St. Annes Avenue to Gastineau School.

• Airport water and sewer extension, $1.1 million. The project would add water and sewer lines to the Civil Air Patrol building, 39 west end buildings and hangars and 25 east end hangars at the airport.

• North Tee Harbor water extension, $2.2 million. The bond funding would expand the water system 3.8 miles from Tee Harbor to Cohen Drive, including subdivisions on Randall Road and Cohen Drive.

• West Juneau park, $145,000. The funding would be used to plan and design a park, similar to Capital Park downtown, near the top of David Street in West Juneau. The total cost is estimated at $350,000 and the bond funding would be used for the first phase of construction.

• Eaglecrest Ski Area day lodge expansion, $805,000. The project would expand food service seating and enlarge the commercial kitchen.

"It covers all parts of the community, from Douglas to Tee Harbor and everything in between," he said.

Some of the projects are urgent, such as the water and sewer line replacements in Douglas, Koelsch said. Funding for the North Tee Harbor water line extension would allow the city to take advantage of an upcoming state Department of Transportation project to upgrade to Glacier Highway, he said.

Many North Tee Harbor residents haul water to their homes or collect it in cisterns, according to Cohen Drive resident Chris Landis, who operates a limited-capacity well.

"We've been patiently waiting for a lot of years," he said. "What has come about recently to make things more urgent is DOT has a highway upgrade project going out to bid in October of 2004. ... It just makes sense to get in at the same time and put in a water main so we're not frozen out."

Critics of the proposition have argued the timing is off, some of the projects aren't well-defined and other sources of city funding could be used to pay for the improvements.

Jim Powell, one of three Assembly members to vote against placing the measure on the ballot, said he was concerned about a pending statewide vote on a legislative move in November. He supports the items on the list, but said he didn't think there was enough information about the Auke Bay commercial vessel loading facility.

"This community has supported bonds in the past, but only after a lot of work on describing what they're really about," he said.

Since the Assembly's discussions over the summer, the city's Docks and Harbors Department has compiled more information about the Auke Bay commercial loading facility and sponsored hearings with user groups, according to Dick Knapp, chairman of the city's Docks and Harbors Board. The project will reduce congestion at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay for sport fishermen and could add to the city's fish tax collections through more landings, he said.

"The most important aspect as we see it is the commercial loading facility for fish loading and commercial operation," Knapp said. "I think it's not only needed, but it could provide an economic benefit for Juneau."

The $3.25 million project would fund a freight ramp for landing craft, a drive-down loading float for commercial fishermen and a small parking and staging area for vehicles, according to city Port Director Joe Graham. The city still is looking at a variety of locations, but Stabler Point near the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal is a probable site, he said.

The city also is in discussions with private dock owners to see if they might be able to respond to some commercial needs, Graham said. Future phases of the project could include a bigger staging area, and the entire facility could cost $6 million to $8 million, he said.

"This just jump-starts everything," Graham said. "It's important for the public to note that we're still working with the private folks out there to see if they want to take some of it."

At Aurora and Harris harbors downtown, the bond funding would reconfigure floats to make room for longer boats. At Douglas Harbor, the money would be used for Savikko Road, a new float system with space for up to 60 large boats and a temporary floating breakwater. Funding for Douglas Harbor improvements, including new moorage, was included in a 1998 sales tax ballot measure, and additional improvements are planned outside of this year's proposal, according to Graham.

The cost of the bond for taxpayers will be $47 for each $100,000 in assessed property value per year, according to the city. The bonds would be issued at a 5.5 percent interest rate in terms of up to 20 years. Interest rates are at historic lows, which is good for people refinancing their homes and good for communities issuing debt, according to City Finance Director Craig Duncan.

"When you issue debt, you should issue debt when you can get the best rates in the market," he said.

While the $15 million bond package would increase the city's debt payments, other bonds will be paid off in the next few years and should help offset the change. A new high school could add to debt payments in future years, according to the city.

"We'd try to blend the increases in the mill levy with the debt service that's maturing," Duncan said.

One way the city tracks its debt is by comparing it to its assessed value. The maximum limit is generally considered to be 7 percent of assessed value, with a practical limit of 5 percent, Duncan said.

With this fall's $15 million bond proposition and the new high school in the picture, the city's debt ratio would be 3.6 percent. Without a new high school or the $15 million bond measure, the ratio would be 1.2 percent as of Jan. 1.

Detailed information about the cost to operate and maintain the projects included in Proposition 1 is available on the city's Web site at

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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