Harbor commission votes to take over Chuck management


The Wrangell Ports and Harbors Commission voted 3-0 June 5 to take over management of the Meyers Chuck dock and seaplane float from the state Transportation Department.

State officials originally proposed the transfer and offered $1.4 million to sweeten the deal. About half of that money will go into a reserve fund, to be supplemented by dock fees with the goal of eventually replacing the seaplane float and dock at the mainland community, which has seven remaining full-time residents. Greater potential also exists to use that portion of the funds in association with a state matching grant at the borough level, according to harbormaster Greg Meissner.

The other half of the $1.4 million will be put toward float renovations at Shoemaker Harbor, borough manager Jeff Jabusch has told the commission. One Chuck resident, Lee Greeley, made the 60-mile trip from the Cleveland Peninsula to Wrangell to voice support for the project. Others have written correspondence to address the situation.

Chuck resident Greg Rice had initially asked for a five-year waiting period before dock fees would go into effect, essentially asking for Chuck dock users to pay for dock replacement after the fact. That isn’t feasible because delays would affect construction costs, which would likely increase the rates users are eventually required to pay, Meissner told the commission.

“Every day you wait to start that, it’s just not helping the cause,” he said.

Rates for the dock use at Meyers Chuck will likely be substantially less than rates at Wrangell docks because the service will essentially remain unchanged, Meissner said.

“We’re not doing used oil, garbages, lighting, electricity, dumpster,” he said.

The Mariners Memorial project are also moving forward. Commissioners received a cost estimate on the full price of a design provided by Juneau-based designer Chris Mertl of Corvus Design.

Officials declined to provide an itemized cost of the project, saying the amount could cause sticker shock for the public and the number at this point is speculative. Commissioners in discussion alluded to an amount greater than $1 million.

Both port commissioners and Mertl said in discussion that estimate was believed to be too high.

“It seems you can’t do anything without spending $1 million these days,” said commissioner Clay Hammer.

The estimate was intentionally inflated, Mertl said.

“At the conceptual level, there’s a lot of great ideas thrown around but nothing really nailed down,” he said. “I prefer to go high and then bring things down rather than coming in low and then as we move through the project it gets higher and higher. You can’t recover from that. I’d rather start high and weed things out, refine things.”

“Then as we move through the design process and refine things, we’re going to get a much better handle on these numbers,” Mertl added.

Officials originally estimated the full project would cost about $250,000, the estimated amount now set aside just for the pavilion itself, Meissner told the board.

“My belief is that building can be built for $150,000,” Meissner said. “I don’t see how it couldn’t be, to be honest with you. When [Mertl] was pulling numbers out, he was thinking full-blown lighthouse lights, and those things are a hundred grand by themselves.”

Contributions from local sources as well as charitable foundations would comprise funding for the project. Officials debated which features of the memorial to include with which phase. Officials initially settled into two camps. Commissioner John Martin favored preliminary grounds work and concrete work, particularly on a series of short walls designed to feature artistic accents from various epochs of Wrangell history, ranging from Tlingit mariners to the present-day cruise ship era.

“Put the grounds in, put the walls in, and if the pavilion happens to be poured concrete panels, you could get the boom truck and lift stuff up,” he said. “The pavilion itself is another project. The boardwalk is another project.”

Meissner, on the other hand, believed it would be easier to get funding from both sources if a standing structure and focal point were erected first, with other additions, like a planned wooden board walk to rest atop the harbor’s breakwater and a series of steps leading down into the the water on the outside of the harbor, added as funding accumulated and the project progressed.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be a big issue to get local funding, but I think it’d be much easier if people got to see our big plan that we have done now, know it’s going to be phases, and then go out there and put something out there,” Meissner said. “They can see something, kick the tires. Interest will pique, I think, and that’ll make the letter campaign and the funding locally happen a lot easier to have something on-site.”

He compared the planned lighthouse pavilion with the striking addition of the red-and-white 300-ton boat lift to the Wrangell Marine Services Center.

As officials move forward and refine design plans for the Heritage Harbor location, a final figure would emerge, Eagle said.

“The pavilion is the big question mark that’s out there,” he said. “That’s the one (feature) with the biggest range on it from a construction estimate, cost estimate. So if we can kind of get that one firmed up, then it would make the rest of the funding a little bit better because it will make the whole cost look like a more firm cost instead of a range.”

Officials eventually selected three features to obtain engineering estimates for the initial phase: the lighthouse pavilion, a single example of the walls, and concrete for the memorial’s grounds. The money will come from state funds specifically earmarked from a state grant for Heritage Harbor.

In other business, the commission briefly discussed possible insurance requirements or the possibility of insuring the harbors at a lump sum. Officials are awaiting information from an insurance agent before discussing the matter.

The commission also voted 3-0 to approve an application for a Tidelands Lease requested by Mark Mitchell.

Ports commission meetings in July and August will likely not be held because a quorum is difficult to establish when many commissioners are in the midst of fishing season, commissioners said.


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