After decades of lobbying and planning, a project to overhaul the boat harbor on St. George Island is finally moving forward. The state is accepting bids for the project design, and hopes to have fully developed construction plans by 2015.
St. George mayor Pat Pletnikoff says the sooner the harbor is built, the better.
“Without a functional harbor, in short order, [St. George] will cease to exist.”
Despite being in the middle of the Bering Sea’s most productive fishing grounds, St. George’s economy is struggling, and as a result, the population has declined precipitously in the last few decades.
The community existing harbor was built in the 90s, and its design leaves it open to wave action, particularly during the Bering Sea’s frequent winter storms. As a result, attracting the fishing fleet’s business has been difficult. With improvements to the harbor’s design, Pletnikoff is optimistic that St. George can prosper.
“Part of this study work that the state Department of Transportation is doing, and will continue to do, is to contact industry people to see what interest they have. We know there’s a lot of interest on the part of the crab fleet. They come into harbor when they can in St. George and drop off crab pots, or come in to pick up crab pots stored on the island.”
Last year, Senator Mark Begich also included a provision in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill directing the agency to study St. George as a possible port of refuge for vessels transiting the Arctic. That could help defray some of the estimated $30 million in construction costs for the harbor.
“Certainly if we can get some assistance for development from the federal government, that would fantastic. But Governor Parnell and his staff have been forthcoming, as has been our legislature, so we’re optimistic that the funding will be in place for construction in a couple of years, after all the study work is completed.”
The state has already pitched in $2.5 million to the project, and voters approved a $3 million bond in November. Bidding on the design phase of the project ends Wednesday and the state hopes to select a contractor shortly thereafter.
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