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By Dan Rudy 

Ports examine future of Shoemaker, Meyers Chuck


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

"Something like this is what we're going to build," Greg Meissner tells the Port Commission at its Dec. 4 meeting, as he points out his idea for the new layout for Shoemaker Bay Harbor. The new setup would accommodate current numbers, with the addition of larger spots for 54- and 60-foot vessels. In all, the project is estimated to cost around $9.8 million dollars, and at the earliest could be completed by 2017.

In his monthly report to the Port Commission on Dec. 4, Harbormaster Greg Meissner explained that plans to replace the dock at Shoemaker Bay Harbor are at the point where an engineer can be brought on site to draw up designs.

Showing a preliminary design to commissioners, Meissner said Shoemaker would be looking at having five main fingers, with additional berths for 54- and 60-foot vessels. The materials used would consist of polyethylene tubs, doing away with wood or iron in the water and adding to the dock's longevity.

"To build that is going to be a $10 million project," Meissner said. A further $2.1 million would be needed to renovate Shoemaker's parking lot. "That'll be down the road."

Meissner said he would also like to have the north end of the harbor dredged, which has never been done. Eventually he hopes to add another dock there.

Funding for the project is hoped to come through an Alaska Department of Transportation grant, for which Meissner is preparing an application before next year's Aug. 1 deadline.

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Citing mobilization fees and concerns over being able to acquire funding in multiple stages, Meissner recommended applying for Tier I project funding in a single block.

"It would benefit us to do this project in one fell swoop," he said. "It's hard to get Tier II money."

After the August deadline for the application, Meissner explained the DOT then examines submitted projects, choosing which to submit to the state for further consideration. Wrangell could possibly hear back by April 2016, with money by July if the project is approved. After that follows the bidding process, the start of construction in the autumn, with the harbor work finished by 2017.

"That's probably the reality if this thing goes smoothly," he said.

He further explained the Harbor Department has just over $2 million at its disposal, and that borrowing another $2.5 million from the borough would be about enough for a funding match.

Meissner will be getting together with staff to discuss the prospect and get an engineer on site to draw up plans. Following that, he plans to hold public workshops to discuss Shoemaker and gather input as he prepares an application package for the loan.

"It's an impressive amount of work you've done since we last met," commented Commissioner John Martin.

The commission meeting was also prefaced by a workshop for discussing future dock rates for Meyers Chuck users, preparatory to replacing the float there. At the moment, residents are not charged any fees for tying up their boats.

Eight residents teleconvened for the workshop to discuss preliminary numbers. Meissner suggested charging $12 per foot, per year, with a $0.20 per-foot daily rate, or $3.50 per-foot per-month. The figures are roughly half that paid by other harbor users on the island.

"To me it's not that much money," opined resident Greg Rice. Speaking for himself, he said he would be comfortable with those rates.

A couple of participating residents expressed concern that fees will be enforced while $1.4 million previously earmarked for the float's replacement will be used instead for the project at Shoemaker.

Meissner assured them this was not the case, and that a new dock will be built for Meyers Chuck within five years once the current amenity ceases to be useful. Also, the fees would not be enacted right away. He explained he needs a final number by April so a budget can be ready for May; any amount would begin with the new budget cycle beginning July 1.

"There'll be no decision tonight," Meissner told them. "This'll just be the first workshop."

Commissioner Clay Hammer was pleased with the turnout. "I felt there was a lot of good input," he said. "Having lots of people sure makes a big difference."

The next workshop will be held before the commission's meeting on Jan. 8, at 6 p.m.

In other business, Meissner recommended to the commission the hiring a new yard operator for The Marine Service Center, with the intention of extending operating hours.

With benefits and training, he said a new operator could cost as much as $85,000 to hire, but that it would be a good investment.

"We're going to need to run more hours," he told them. The big boat hoist slows down the lifting schedule, and having added time to make up the slack would be a more efficient use of the yard.

Currently, Meissner estimates the boatyard should be $93,000 or ahead by year's end, enough to cover hiring a new operator plus an additional temporary position for $8,000.

He also recommended increasing rates for work space, from $0.50 to $0.75 per square foot. The idea would be to incentivize quicker turnaround time for projects while also bringing in additional funds to cover operating costs.

"Our rates in this industry are very cheap," he said. "We have room to move our rates without chasing any business away."

"The big jobs are good for the city also," said Don Sorric, owner of Superior Marine Services, who was attending the meeting as a person to be heard. He reasoned that boats occupying work areas were not simply sitting idle, but were bringing in revenue to the community through contracted work and other expenses.

"These jobs are generating huge amounts of money," he said, and expressed the opinion that turnaround time should not be the primary consideration of the yard.

Like the Meyers Chuck workshop, the rate change discussion will continue at the commission's next meeting.

"I encourage everybody to come," said Commissioner John Yeager.


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