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By Dan Rudy 

Port commish examines thefts and ferry landings

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

The Rainforest Islander briefly belches smoke while having the injectors changed on its starboard engine Oct. 1 in Wrangell's Reliance Harbor. The new ferry service is working with the city to find a permanent site to make its regularly scheduled landings.

Security was one topic on the minds of Wrangell's Port Commission members when they met on Oct. 1.

A compressed air foam system was among the larger items pilfered from the boatyard this year. Harbormaster Greg Meissner explained the 30-gallon device is one of three his department keeps for fire-fighting, with others located at Heritage Harbor and the Reliance Harbor office. Acquired five years ago, each was worth around $5,600, but the real cost is not having it on hand when it's needed.

"It's just a shame that something like that that's there for all to use in the event of an emergency is taken," Meissner said.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of installing cameras at the yard to deter or perhaps identify thieves. Meissner explained a quality system would be expensive, and there would be logistical difficulties to overcome if systems were to be installed at the Shoemaker and Heritage Harbor facilities.

He said the nature of the boatyard-a place where tools, parts and machinery are kept for lengthy stretches of time-makes the occasional theft inevitable. Other items have been reported stolen from boats, lots and workspaces this year, both on and off harbor property.

"You always have a little bit," Meissner said. The best defense against petty theft is vigilance, stowing away items and keeping work areas secured. "Like any of us leaving stuff out, you're not inviting it, but you're making it easier."

For larger items and more calculated larcenies, however, he said cameras could be helpful in identifying suspects and possibly returning items. Funding for such a system would have to come from the Harbor Department's reserve budget, which at the moment is being held in readiness for higher-priority repairs at Shoemaker.

In June the Borough Assembly approved a spending plan for improvements at the harbor. Estimated at $10.7 million, Wrangell this summer applied for Tier I project funding through the Alaska Department of Transportation (ADOT). If accepted as proposed, the state's portion would come in the form a $5 million matching grant; $3.2 million would come from the harbor and commercial fishing reserve funds, and the remaining $2.5 million would be raised through the issue of revenue bonds.

Meissner said he would know how Wrangell's application ranks among other proposals following the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators next week in Anchorage. If an ADOT grant is approved for the renovation project and if the Legislature agrees to fund the program, work on the harbor could be completed by 2017.

Commissioners also discussed possible landing sites for Rainforest Islands Ferry, a three-stop service connecting communities on Wrangell, Prince of Wales and Mitkof Islands which began service in August. The new ferry line has been having problems accessing Wrangell Island, after the originally planned-for site at Shoemaker Bay proved to be unworkable.

Landings have been taking place at the ramp in Reliance Harbor, but the tides have thrown off the service's schedule. When conditions are wrong, foot passengers can be dropped off at the floatplane dock nearby, but offloading vehicles is problematic.

Because of the landing craft's size, it cannot make use of the barge ramp near the city dock without significant modifications being made. Another possibility, the ramp at Heritage Harbor, would not be allowed under usage terms agreed upon with the state, which had helped fund it for strictly recreational purposes.

Taken up by the Assembly at its previous meeting, the issue was relayed to the Port Commission for a possible solution. Last week Meissner and commission chair Clay Hammer inspected the ramp located just west of the airport, which is managed by ADOT, as a possible site. Hammer conversed with the department about letting the ramp be used as a landing site for the ferry, and first steps are now being taken to apply for its use.

 

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