Harris Harbor gets ready to shine

$5.2 million project to wrap up by mid-December

Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2005

People driving across the Douglas Bridge into downtown Juneau should notice a new "special glow" in the evening, Harbormaster Lou McCall said as summer was ending last week.

If people don't see a glow in McCall when he talks about the continuing harbor renovation project, they should still notice his broad smile. Boaters who use Harris Harbor will love it, he said. "The general public is going to want to come here and walk down to the floats."

The floats that extend into Gastineau Channel on the far side of the bridge are being replaced, along with the finger piers where boats tie up - including fishing vessels, pleasure crafts and some that people call home in the downtown harbor.

The glow will come from new 54-inch-high utility pedestals that will spread lights evenly on the docks instead of glaring as the old overhead lights do. When the darker days come in October, people will be impressed with how Juneau's oldest harbor looks, city Port Engineer Mike Krieber said.

By mid-December he expects only loose ends will need to be tied up.

But improvements from the $5.2 million project go beyond aesthetics, he added.

"It's a nice dock," Dave Tift said after tying his sailboat, the Patience, at one of the two new floats. "Four cleats," he said pointing to places for boats to tie up to on a nearby finger pier. "The old dock only had two."

The new ones are bigger, too, he said. Having been in and out of the harbor for four years, he knows how important it is to be able to tie boats securely. The wind can blow 80 mph in the winter, smacking boats around, he said.

"They're big cleats," Jeff Kemp said aboard his boat, the Seascape, which he calls home. Having lived in Harris Harbor for nine years he said he's happy to see the city making a major upgrade to his neighborhood.

"Harris Harbor was a dump," he said.

"The floats were sinking," McCall said, pointing to the four remaining old floats, which are scheduled to be demolished this week. He noted how precariously low in the water they appeared.

Several years ago, after the city took over control of the state-owned harbors, city officials began evaluating their needs, Krieber said. Electrical work has been done at Aurora Harbor and improvements have been made to others. Grant money specifically directed to Amalga and Taku harbors has been used to improve those.

The Harris Harbor renovations and general improvements have been financed by $7 million in state funds and $2 million that voters approved in 2002 from the city's sales tax.

"Harris Harbor was in, by far, the worst shape," he said. Last winter, it was a place where electrical transformers would catch fire, where cables would sometimes leak electricity into the water.

McCall said the new utilities will provide grounded electricity. Their design also is more convenient. Boaters hooking up to them at night won't need flashlights to help them hook up their power cords.

"The electricity blew up one year," Kemp said. "The water froze up in the wintertime."

The new water system won't require a long hose and won't freeze , McCall said. The new main water system is still being tested.

The improved Harris Harbor will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with a longer gangway, decreasing the angle down to the floats, which can be as severe as 47 percent, McCall said.

In addition to safety issues, the cost of temporary-fix repairs was considered, Krieber said. While taking care of the needs, the project also will provide bigger slips to give boats more room to maneuver. A couple of fishermen already have thanked him, he said.

Aboard the Seascape, on one of the two completed floats, Kemp pointed to a gillnetter in a slip about 8 feet away. In the old Harris Harbor, that distance would have been about 8 inches, he said.

"Logistically, it's been a nightmare," McCall said of the shuffle, noting that the Harbor Office staff has worked hard to relocate and reassign boats. Late last week, there remained 28 boats at the four old floats.

Because three floats will be replacing the remaining four floats, "we're losing 58 stalls," McCall said. There will be 175 instead of 233. But the boats will be in stalls where they fit.

Krieber said Harris Harbor also has gotten rid of some derelict boats, which people had moored there even though they didn't function as boats.

"We always had rules on the books about derelict boats," he said. More than 100 notices went out to people responsible for suspected derelict boats in the spring of 1994, so anyone displaced by the Harris Harbor remodeling had plenty of notice.

"I think they did a pretty good job," Kemp said the week after moving from one of the old floats to a new one. He expects the people who use the harbor to show more respect "to keep it nice. They have to enforce the rules," he added.

The only problem he sees with changes in the harbor is being able to afford continuing to live there. He said it's unfortunate that the city requires harbor operations to pay for themselves.

"This could be a gem of the Southeast," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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