City of Ketchikan voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve up to $5 million in harbor improvement bonds.
Officials say the bonds will help the city’s chances of getting an additional $5 million, or more, to pay for needed harbor projects.
“Here’s one of the fingers,” said City Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon, during a tour of Bar Harbor. “It’s listing probably about a good 10 degrees out there and the piling, quite a bit of diameter is gone on these old wood piles.”
For about a decade now, the State of Alaska has been giving its dilapidated harbors away. More than that, the state has paid municipalities such as the City of Ketchikan to take over harbors within their communities.
Corporon said the state was supposed to take care of major maintenance of its harbors, with municipalities running them and performing minor maintenance. However, he said, the state didn’t put much money into them.
“That was one of the reasons that they were divesting themselves of them, because they basically reached the end of their serviceable life,” he said. “The state felt bad about that. Well, as bad as states can feel. And they tried to sweeten the deals by putting in some deferred maintenance money as part of the transfer agreement. But it didn’t even come close to being enough to do the work that needed to be done.”
Corporon said the city has used up all the state’s deferred maintenance money, with help from grants, to finish three phases of a four-phase harbor improvement project. About $10 million worth of projects remains.
Corporon said the city hopes to get half of that, or more, paid for through grants, including a state program.
“It’s a 50-50 harbor grant program, but you have to have your 50 percent identified before you can even apply for the grant, and if your 50 percent includes bonds, you have to have already have a voter-approved bond,” he said. “You don’t have to issue the bonds, you don’t have to have the money in the bank, but you have to have the voter-approved for the bonding.”
If the bonds are approved by voters on Tuesday, Corporon said the city won’t run out and issue all $5 million right away. He said the projects will be planned and funded individually, with bonds issued as needed.
He said he hopes to issue no more than $3 million in bonds over the next five years.
One of the projects in the bond package would replace and expand the launch and two floats in Bar Harbor. There’s also a complete overhaul at Hole in the Wall, and new ADA-accessible ramps at each harbor.
Expanding the Bar Harbor boat launch will take some pressure off during the busy summer season.
“This time of year, it gets especially busy, especially if there’s four or five cruise ships in, because we’ll have 10-15 duck boat launches and recoveries, right in the middle of everything,” Corporon said.
The new Bar Harbor floats will replace structures that are about 40 years old.
“You can see, especially the fingers that all these boats are on, the piles are in pretty rough shape, and the fingers are twisted,” he said. “There are some trees growing out of some of the bull rails.”
Corporon said that, because of the extreme tides here, 80-foot ramps are needed to meet ADA guidelines. Now, many of the ramps are much shorter.
“Even for able-bodied people, 50-foot at a low tide is pretty darned steep,” he said. “So I’ve been telling people that, yes 80-foot meets ADA guidelines, but it is not going to benefit just ADA people. It’s going to benefit everybody that has lugged all their gear down to their boat, or bringing their catch home at the end of the day on a 50-foot ramp at low tide. They are going to see a huge benefit.”
Corporon said Hole in the Wall is in horrible shape and much of that harbor needs to be replaced.
“You go out there, and the structure underneath the floats is getting so soft that some of the wood is literally being squished up through the holes,” he said. “Kind of like pink slime.”
Whether or not the bond vote passes, Corporon said harbor rates will go up. He said the projects are critical, and the city will raise rates either to pay back bond debt or to build up a reserve to use as matching funds. If the bond vote passes, he said, the projects will get done faster.
Corporon said harbor rates will increase about 7 percent for each million dollars in bond debt, with a total of about 21 percent over the next four or five years.
For a standard 24-foot boat, a 7-percent increase would mean the monthly rate would go up about $4.
Tuesday’s special election is open to city voters only, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information, visit the city’s website, or call the Port and Harbors Department. Corporon said he’s happy to answer questions about the election.