• Skyrocketing costs for new public safety building, review of CIP list occupies council
By Naomi Klouda
Homer’s Port and Harbor begins renovations in the coming weeks to replace icy tide-torn floats accessed by A float from E to K, a project that displaces dozens of boats for a short space of time.
The project also lengthens worrisome Ramp 3, a heavy-use access to floats, from 57 to 100 feet. This solves the low tide steepness of the ramp for greater safety.
A busy season of work ahead goes at a backlog of maintenance issues brought on by years of lacking funds to make repairs. Harbor Master Bryan Hawkins told the Homer City Council the work begins Sept. 2 to replace floats on A float Ramp 2, a major undertaking that will displace about 60-70 boats. At the end of that work, around Sept. 22, piling and float replacement focuses on R and S floats.
“A lot of activity is about to happen this fall in the harbor,” Hawkins said. “It’s all good news. We’ve been working for this day a long time, for several years.”
Hawkins wanted projects that would benefit all user groups, so look out for several harbor improvements staged one right after the other.
“That’s why the project money is being used all the way around the harbor,” he said.
“Starting Sept. 2 if you are in the area of Ramp 2 and K float, you’re going to be impacted by this,” Hawkins said Tuesday morning. “The other chief message to go out is that power and water will be shut off from Sept. 2, and the water won’t come back on until spring. This is a month and half early. All of System 1 boats will be shut off.”
The contractor, Harris Sand and Gravel, is to complete the contract for the 11 floats and digital meters for electricity to the boat slips. This should accommodate an estimated 60-70 boats. Vessels at E, F and G floats will be able to stay in place.
A pile barge in the harbor will replace pilings while new floats from A to K are to be installed.
The first load of floats arrived by barge on Monday afternoon, Hawkins said. These materials are staged by the new Homer Port and Harbor office presently under construction. That building should be ready to move into this spring.
“By Sept 22, we’ll have replaced all the floats,” Hawkins said, explaining temporary rafting will be available for moorage as well as some relocations.
“It is going to be a pretty interesting project. There is just no way around that. But the contractors are committed to getting in and getting it done,” Hawkins said. Vessels owners on F,G and H floats, for this first stage of the project, will need to make contact with the harbor office. A Float, ramp 2 to K also will need to check in.
The harbor master and a port advisory commission began three years ago to study where could they raise $4.2 million in fee increases to be applied in increments over a multi-year period. This came after being rejected several years in a row for help from the Alaska Legislature through the Capital Improvement Project funding lists. A combination of moorage and dockage fee hikes and fishing service increases was devised to go half way toward raising match money for the repairs. These combined with a $4.2 million municipal bond package helped the Port and Harbor obtain $8.4 million needed for the ice and tide-torn harbor. Rotting wooden floats that hadn’t been replaced in more than 25 years tilted in the freeze-and-buckle cycle of winter ice-up and pilings were near failing.
At the end of September, the pile driver moves on to R and S floats for replacements.
Harbor users complaining about gaps and cement failings in the boat launch also will get relief soon. Design work is to be completed this winter. Hawkins is sending out an invitation-to-bid for a design proposal sometime in early September. Construction should be done in 2015, Hawkins said, but he isn’t yet certain whether that will be in spring or fall. It depends on the proposal accepted.
Another soon-to-come harbor improvement project involves a $350,000 appropriation from the State of Alaska allocated this spring. The Homer City Council appropriated it at Monday’s meeting for a harbor sheet loading pile dock, a dock that would go next to the barge ramp and the fuel dock on the harbor’s east side.
This was one of the hoped-for long term harbor projects meant to serve the industrial marine trades and to generate harbor revenue, Hawkins said.
“Back in the 1990s, this was seen as a way to use space that is underused to create extra dock space in the harbor,” Hawkins said. “It creates new dock space in the safety of harbor for salmon deliveries, dealing with trying to accommodate tenders’ offloading. A pile dock proves useful because it has no weight limitations in terms of what you want to dock. It will be useful for construction equipment serving coastal communities and engine overhauls.”
An upgrade to System 5, the large vessel dock, should be completed by the end of the week, Hawkins said. This project adds more power stations though Ramp 7.
Another improvement is the creation of 60-foot stalls, a new class of slip size. “This will move larger vessels out of the transit area and into stalls to fit a new class size for the Homer harbor,” he said.
After Sept. 22, the project moves to R and S float where those will be torn out and replaced. That installation is expected to be complete on Oct. 4. C
Then crews will be working to reinstall all the utilities throughout the winter: Water spigots, water lines, electrical lines and a new dryline fire system going in.
• Is the HERC to be the new public safety site?
Ken Castner, chair of the Homer Public Safety Building Commission, gave a report to the council about how the quest for a new building is progressing. The commission completed the needs assessment look at what it will take to house the police, fire department and training facility all under one roof into the next few decades, he said. But the commission still has not been able to make a decision on which is the best site for planning on constructing a 50,000-foot building – the present Pioneer Avenue and Sterling Highway Homer Education and Recreation Center or another site to be leased.
The cost estimates also are growing alarmingly, Castner said.
“Six months ago the $15 million number was grabbed out of the air because we didn’t know,” he told the council. Now, based on square-foot-construction costs, the project estimate has risen to $25 million.
“What I’m at the point of asking you to do is to make some critical decisions. The HERC (discussion) keeps it up in the air. The council has declared HERC is the site and you kind of did that,” he said.
But since no official resolution has been made by the council deciding to tear down the HERC or arrange it as the next public safety home, it keeps the commission hamstrung, Castner said.
The commission has been approached by businesses who would be able to lease their land to the city and go to work helping on the project. “When people come to us and say ‘did you consider this option’ or ‘did you consider that option,’ I want to be able to say, yea, we looked at all our options,” Castner told the council. “But two policy issues need to be settled before we can get off this dime.” The two issues are: is there a leasing option? Is the HERC to be the site?
• The council devoted a work session to an inventory of projects for planning its prioritization of Capital Improvement Projects ahead. Community and Economic Development Coordinator Katie Koester went through each category for dividing projects from the top five priorities to future needs and to community projects the city sponsors.
A $3.5 million water storage distribution improvement system remains left over from last year’s top five list. But the East West Transportation Corridor to cut down on Homer traffic congestion won a $1.4 million toward its $4.9 million need in this year’s appropriations. The fire department also won $350,000 in equipment upgrade requests and the harbor’s Sheet Pile Loading Dock won $350,000 toward its $955,000 cost.
The hoped for new public safety building also remains on the list of top five from last year.
The council now will go through projects to give Koester recommendations on which projects should form the most pressing requests.
• The council approved appropriating $10,000 to the fire department on a new thermal imaging system. The Homer Volunteer Fire Department had two of these systems when one of them broke down and could not be repaired.
• Passed: Homer city code is now amended to bring it into line with Kenai Peninsula Borough Code on who the Homer Planning Advisory Commission reports to officially. The commission makes recommendations on platting subdivisions to the borough, which has the ultimate authority. The city’s process in the past had been to have the planning commission make advisory decisions known to the city council. But this is not alined with borough code.
There’s problems with reporting directly to the borough, however, Councilman Beau Burgess pointed out. It gives the city little oversight or input on the process. The council will look for ways to remedy this, with citizen help.
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