State cuts could close one Sitka harbor

Sitka will have to close one of its five boat harbors if a state matching-grant program is eliminated.

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A summer sunset colors the waters of Sitka’s Crescent Harbor in 2014. Municipal officials want to improve three harbors using a state grant program that may be at risk. (Shaleece Haas/KCAW)
A summer sunset colors the waters of Sitka’s Crescent Harbor in 2014. Municipal officials want to improve three harbors using a state grant program that may be at risk. (Shaleece Haas/KCAW)

The 10-year-old program funds half the cost of local harbor replacement or repair.

Sitka Municipal Administrator Mark Gorman says it’s among state programs that could be reduced or eliminated as the Legislature looks for ways to balance the budget.

“If that goes away, we’re going to have some very serious challenges maintaining our current infrastructure,” Gorman says. “In fact, we may have to drop one of our harbors in the next decade if we don’t have support from the state.”

He says the issue came up at a recent staff meeting. No one harbor is being targeted for closure.

The municipality hopes to receive up to $28 million in harbor matching funds during the next 10 or so years. Work would be done on Crescent, Eliason and Sealing Cove facilities.

Gorman says harbor rates are already rising and further hikes would not cover the loss of state grants.

The harbor issue came up during discussion of Sitka’s municipal priorities for the Legislature, which resumes meeting in January.

They include airport upgrades, education funding, and water- and sewer-system improvements.

One $6.3 million project would build a backup drinking-water source in Starrigavin Valley. Municipal Administrator Gorman says the state requires a secondary water source.

“We know that we could activate a temporary filtration system for Indian River, but that’s prohibitively expensive,” he says.

Sitka used that approach during construction of the Blue Lake Dam, which affected the water supply. He says that cost about $3 million over two months.

“So if we can get a secondary water source for $6 million that we can use makes a lot of sense,” Gorman says.

The legislative priority list was discussed Tuesday evening during a work session with school board and assembly members. It’s not finalized.

Sitka officials also hope to win about $4.3 million in state funding for smaller projects, including waterline replacement, sewage lift stations and heating improvements.

“We’re more optimistic about those programs being maintained because they’re tied to a lot of federal funding. And I think Gov. Walker recognizes that that’s money well-invested by the state to get the federal matching grants,” he says

Marine Service Center repairs, energy improvements and restored state-park funding are also on the list. So is funding for the ferry system, which faces deep cuts, especially in Sitka.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.