With Loss Of Dock, Gustavus Residents Worry About Tourist Season

The floating breakwater dislodged from its pilings Tuesday afternoon and landed on the beach. (Photo courtesy of Pep Scott)
The floating breakwater dislodged from its pilings Tuesday afternoon and landed on the beach. (Photo courtesy of Pep Scott)

Tuesday’s storm in Southeast caused a state-owned breakwater in Gustavus to dislodge from its pilings and wash ashore on the beach. The 200-foot steel structure also serves as a popular floating dock facility for local residents running charter fishing and whale watching boats. Gustavus residents are wondering what this means for their tourist season.

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“I didn’t want to watch but I couldn’t look away. It was pretty intense,” says Gustavus resident Pep Scott.

She was at the Gustavus dock facility Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. watching the floating breakwater and pilings rock back and forth. Workers with the state Department of Transportation had tried to secure it with heavy line, but it didn’t work. The floating structure eventually broke loose and landed on the beach.

Scott calls the breakwater, which also serves as a dock, Gustavus’ livelihood. “I run a fish processing plant so I rely on the charter boats and the commercial fishing boats and without a float for anybody to come and put their boat in or for any goods to come in and go out, we’re just kind of stuck,” she says.

As the breakwater dislodged, it swung into city-owned wooden floats causing damage to those as well and leaving Gustavus residents without many options for docking, especially during the busy tourist season coming up in May.

“At this point in time, if we go with what’s left, it looks like we’ve got about a 40-foot section of dock that 20 to 30 boats would have to use every day,” says Mike Halbert.

Halbert has owned Glacier Bay Sportfishing for almost 30 years. Between the end of May and September, he takes up to eight tourists out on the water every day. Boats use the state-owned breakwater and the city-owned wooden floats for whale watching, charter and commercial fishing, kayak transport, and recreation. Halbert says the community with a year-round population of 450 relies heavily on tourism, “It’s life or death. If it’s not there then none of us can operate.”

The breakwater went into service in 2012 and cost the state just under $1.4 million. It’s located in the same facility as Gustavus’ ferry dock, which was not damaged during Tuesday’s storm.

Al Clough is Southeast Director of DOT. He says a storm in December had previously damaged the floating breakwater. At the time, the state conducted surveys and determined that it had to be removed due to unstable pilings. “Unfortunately, before we could get a crew, to get a barge and a crane mobilized out there to remove that breakwater, another storm came in,” he explains.

Clough says he has no idea when the breakwater will be repaired but it’s not going to be put back in the near future:

“We have to redesign a new structure and then we have to permit it and secure funding and everything else. There is not a quick fix, and obviously that breakwater, the way it was installed is not robust enough to handle this major storm event we had so we’re not just going to be put the same thing back in there.”

According to the National Weather Service in Juneau, the maritime wind in Gustavus Tuesday was at least 40 miles per hour.

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Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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