Measure would fix SE harbors

Ballot proposition would allow for local takeover of harbors

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

Originally built in 1939, Harris Harbor in Juneau is showing signs of age. The electrical transformer boxes are rusting. Float 1 has twisted. And users occasionally spot grass growing on the wooden floats between the boats moored downtown.

Bond proposition B, which is on the statewide ballot Tuesday, would dedicate $226.7 million in bond funding to highway and harbor projects statewide. About $32 million would go to harbor projects, including $7.1 million to help repair Juneau's harbors.

The repairs are tied to a long-standing effort to transfer state harbors to the municipalities that run them, according to state harbors engineer Harold Moeser. With the state money for repairs, Juneau would agree to take ownership of the float systems, he said.

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"Municipalities have always been expected to charge fees to cover operational costs and it's appropriate as we mature as a state that they also take responsibility for capital renovation," he said.

The transfers wouldn't involve land. State floats used by the Alaska Marine Highway System, the state Department of Fish and Game, or for public safety wouldn't be included, Moeser said.

In Juneau, money would cover repairs to Statter Harbor in Auke Bay, Douglas Harbor, Aurora and Harris harbors downtown and the North Douglas launch ramp. It also would cover a float at Taku Harbor south of town that isn't managed by the city.

Unlike some Alaska communities, Juneau uses local money for harbor maintenance, city Port Director Joe Graham said. The state funded some float surface repairs in Aurora about four years ago, but major harbor repairs have been slow in coming, he said.

"The biggest concerns we have are with the existing electrical system," he said. The money also could go "the metal connections between the floats, the floatations on the floats and the piling that secures the floats. There's no end to the repairs that could be influenced."

Dick Knapp, chairman of the city Docks and Harbors Board, supports local ownership of Juneau's harbors.

"We'd like to see it go forward," he said of the bond measure. "Then we could take possession of the city's harbors, and with the moneys transferred we'd be in a position to take care of some of the issues we think need to be taken care of."

Some Alaska communities, such as Homer and Seward, already have received state funds for harbor upgrades and accepted ownership. If the bond passes, the state still would own about 40 harbors around Alaska, Moeser said.

Juneau resident Dennis Brockman, who keeps a 24-foot Bayliner in Aurora, said local harbors need the money. But he's worried about when the city will make the repairs.

"They're just not doing their work," he said. "They're like a horse with blinders on."

Brockman hurt his leg and dropped a hatch cover in the water after slipping at Aurora Harbor in May, an accident caused by a broken metal plate between the G and H floats, he said. He's noticed grass growing on the floats and rotted ladders at the Harris grid.

Under the bond package, the road and harbor projects would be funded with $123.9 million in general obligation bonds and $102.8 million in so-called Garvee bonds.

Garvee stands for "grant anticipation revenue vehicle," and the state would pay the bonds with future federal highway funds. With a 10-year bond, the debt service would be $12.5 million annually, according to state estimates.

It probably will take about three years for the state to spend the Garvee bond funding. Interest earned during that time should cover a 10 percent state match required on the federal projects, state Transportation Commissioner Joe Perkins said.

"Interest on the money invested before we spend it will just about pay the entire state match," he said. "The state ends up saving money because that would have to be appropriated."

The harbor projects would be funded with general obligation bonds, and a local match isn't required. Assuming a 15-year bond, the debt service would be $11.4 million annually, according to state estimates. The general obligation bond projects would be paid for with state general fund revenues.

The Juneau Assembly unanimously approved a resolution supporting Proposition B last month, but the measure has received little attention locally. One of the Anchorage road projects in the package, an extension and reconstruction of Abbott Loop, has been controversial. And the use of Garvee bonds drew some criticism during this year's legislative session from contractors worried about fluctuations in work and federal funding.

The statewide bond proposition isn't connected to a $15 million city bond package Juneau voters approved last month for harbors and utility upgrades, although it may give the city some flexibility in how it handles the projects, Graham said.

The city bond package included money to build a commercial vessel loading facility at Auke Bay, add a new float system in Douglas, and reconfigure floats in Aurora and Harris harbors.

If the state bond package is approved, the state should be able to transfer the harbors in about six months, Moeser said. The city will be in charge of the repairs, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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