Sitka park board shelves large ship plan in favor of utility dock sale

(Image via KCAW)

The board of Sitka’s industrial park wants to move forward with the sale of the old utility dock, even if it means letting go of plans to develop a moorage facility for large ships. With an extremely motivated buyer, the board decided that supporting a real project in the present was preferable to banking on a dream.

It’s been almost a year since the marine salvage company Hanson Maritime offered to buy the derelict utility dock at the industrial park — where, during Sitka’s pulp-mill era, chlorine barges used to tie up.

Hanson Maritime owner Lee Hanson wants to move his tugboats and underwater salvage equipment out of Sitka’s public harbors, and onto a private dock.

The board of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park last February agreed to the sale, and set aside $20,000 in legal fees to draw up a purchase agreement.

That tab has now hit $30,000. And what was already expected to be a complicated transaction has hit a snag.

“We haven’t really found any language that’s acceptable to Lee (Hanson),” said park director Garry White, “and has been acceptable to our legal team here, on how basically allow a ship to be tied up, with lines to go across property that we’re going to sell, and have the rules of the road all lined out that everyone can agree with.”

The problem is this: The old utility dock is right next to the park’s new multipurpose floating dock — one purpose of which is to moor large ships in the “post Panamax” class. Those are ships about 1,000 feet long and 130 feet wide. An engineering design drafted in August of this year calls for six additional mooring dolphins to be installed to accommodate the ships — with two of those dolphins located near the corners of the old utility dock.

Should a large ship tie up there, the mooring lines would obstruct access to the utility dock. The sales agreement with Hanson Maritime — as proposed — calls for Hanson to vacate his property whenever a ship is there, which Hanson finds unacceptable.

But even if the dolphins were put in tomorrow, what ships would tie up there? Board president Scott Wagner suggested that there were unrealistic expectations surrounding big ships at the park — whether they carried bulk water or passengers.

“The city voted on a cruise ship dock, and they didn’t want to build one, ” Wagner said. “So I don’t think that should be holding this up. The other options are alternate configurations for bulk water transfer, so I don’t see a reason to not move forward.”

The city’s efforts to market and sell excess bulk water by the shipload from the Blue Lake reservoir are “dead in the water,” in the words of park director Garry White, as serious defects have been discovered in the valve system. Smaller-scale loading of container vans, however, is still viable.

With no cruise ships and no bulk water tankers, there was no foreseeable reason for additional mooring dolphins, much less allow the prospect of them to further delay Hanson Maritime’s purchase of the dock. Wagner and the board were prepared to let the idea of big ships go, for now.

 “I don’t think we need to go to the extreme of saying we don’t want big ships at all,” said Wagner. “We just need to remove that consideration from developing this document.”

That was satisfactory to Lee Hanson, who also did not want to see the park’s future limited by the deal. Rather than installing two dolphins at the corners of his dock, he proposed allowing any future ship to pass lines to the dock itself. “Make me a line handler,” he said. “I’ll take $500 a day.”

Municipal attorney Brian Hanson — who is no relation to Lee Hanson — attended the meeting, and told the board that he “had learned a lot” listening to the exchange of ideas. The board directed those involved in writing the sales agreement to amend it to ensure that the “terms of the agreement shall not be restrictive to Hanson Maritime, and that the focus of Gary Paxton Industrial Park  board is on smaller vessels in the marine services industry.”