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Anchor Point harbor may not hold water

Study by Corps of Engineers reports project could be economically unjustifiable

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The U.S. Corps of Engineers project manager for a proposed Anchor Point harbor said Monday that such a project may not be economically justifiable.

A report issued by the corps said a proposed feasibility study that could cost well over $1 million and require state and local matching funds may well end up showing that breakwaters and long-term maintenance would be too costly.

Further, either of two proposals -- a full harbor or a protected boat launch facility -- potentially could disrupt natural sediment transport along beaches, including at the Clam Gulch Critical Habitat Area. Construction also could impact fish migration, the study said.

"In summary, there is considerable risk that further studies during the cost-shared feasibility study will show that navigation improvements at Anchor Point are not justified or, if justified, do not meet budget policy requirements or national priorities for funding of construction," the corps study said.

Ken Turner, the corps' project manager for the Anchor Point harbor idea, said the corps is leaning toward a feasibility study for a protected load and launch ramp rather than a full small boat harbor, but even that may not ever rise to the level of a sweet deal.

"Based on a quick-and-dirty look at the economics, it's marginal," Turner said.

He also said the $1 million estimate for a feasibility study was likely "on the conservative side."

An ordinance to place creation of an Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area on the fall ballot gets a public hearing tonight before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The service area's prime function, initially, would be raising funds to pay for the harbor feasibility study.

Proponents say safety and the struggling community economy are prime reasons for considering a harbor at Anchor Point. Currently, launches off the beach are subject to rapidly varying conditions of sea and wind and, at times, can be dangerous, Anchor Point residents say.

"We have thousands and thousands of launches off Anchor Point beach every year," said Tom Clark, chair of the Anchor Point Chamber of Commerce. "It's getting greater every year, primarily charter and recreational boaters. It's becoming a serious safety issue and needs to be addressed soon.

"I would prefer a small boat harbor, but I would go for anything, including a protected boat launch facility."

According to supporters, a typical summer day sees an estimated 30 boat launches at the beach at Anchor Point, with another 65 per day at Deep Creek, roughly split between charter and recreational vessels.

The two alternatives under consideration are a 99-vessel small boat harbor and less-expensive protected boat launch facility. Construction of a protected boat launch facility would cost an estimated $5.1 million. A 99-vessel boat harbor would run about $15.5 million, according to the corps.

Proposed locations for the two alternatives are at sites three-quarters of a mile south of the mouth of the Anchor River and at Cape Starichkof about 8 miles north of Anchor Point and just south of Stariski Creek.

A harbor would be protected by two angled breakwaters and be accessible under all tidal conditions, according to the preliminary study. A launch facility, on the other hand, would be protected by a single breakwater to the south and be available about half the time due to tidal cycles, according to the report.

The study, which would consider cost, construction, maintenance and operation, would be paid for by state and federal grants supplemented by a proposed property tax levy of up to .1 mills, which would raise approximately $12,871 a year. A higher tax could be authorized by a majority vote of the service area residents. A five-member elected service area board of directors would be established.

Assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge-Seldovia said a majority of those testifying at a public hearing May 8 at the Anchor Point Senior Citizens Center favored the harbor service area.

Martin also said it appeared that in weighing the costs and benefits of a feasibility study and future project, the corps' study looked at Cook Inlet's commercial fishing industry, which is currently depressed.

"We feel they did not give enough weight to the dramatic increase in charter fishing and to the oil and gas industry activity in the area," Martin said. "We are endeavoring to point that out."

Turner said under federal funding rules, recreational benefits could only account for up to 50 percent of the weight of all benefits when factored into a cost-benefit analysis. In such an analysis, the benefits must match up well against the costs of construction for there to be any federal interest in a project. He said existing charter boats would be considered commercial for purposes of weighing costs and benefits, but future charter vessels would be considered recreational. He said he didn't know why.

An April 4 report from Borough Mayor Dale Bagley indicated the corps was willing to contribute funds to help cover the costs of the feasibility study. It is anticipated the service area would apply for various state and federal grants to acquire the necessary funds, Bagley said. The 2002 federal budget included $50,000 for matching purposes. A feasibility study could take as long as three years, the corps said, but any feasibility study hinges on creation of a service area.

"Without the establishment of a service area there is not a legal cost-sharing partner for the feasibility phase. Further study is not recommended if a service area is not established at Anchor Point," the report said.

In the absence of a service area, a study might proceed if the Kenai Peninsula Borough or the state of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities agreed to be the local sponsor, the corps said. Those scenarios may be unlikely, however. For the borough to be a partner, it would have to assume port and harbor powers.

An analysis may find the project not feasible, the corps warned. Areas of concern include the possibility that the cost of building breakwaters sufficiently strong to withstand the conditions in Cook Inlet may be prohibitively high. Initial and maintenance dredging at either proposed site could be significant and costly.

In addition, studies would have to be done to predict the project's impact on natural sediment transport and deposition at the Clam Gulch Critical Habitat Area and on fish migration.

Other concerns include the effects of breakwater structures on harbor flushing, sedimentation and fish passage.

An environmental impact statement would have to be prepared.

"Those are valid concerns," Clark said. "I hope the feasibility study will delve into those further. Then further considerations can be made from there."

Mike O'Meara, a longtime resident of the south end of the North Fork Road, could be part of the proposed service area, but not if he has anything to say about it.

"It's an old idea that's been around a long time," O'Meara said. "The difference now is that it has come back with a vengeance. Through the diligence, arm-twisting and perseverance a small number of Anchor Point residents managed to get Milli Martin to introduce this ordinance."

O'Meara said the ordinance goes far beyond the feasibility study itself. The service area encompasses too large an area, he said, and empowers the service area to proceed to construction. He also said he worries that the .1 mill levy is not a firm cap and could be changed by the borough at any time. He said there is precedence for the elimination of such caps, pointing to the borough's Road Service Area.

Of the harbor or launch facility project itself, O'Meara said it would be bad for the environment because of the geography and dynamic conditions of the coastline at either proposed location, which would present huge and costly engineering problems.

Beyond that, he said, the real costs will come in "maintaining this monster."

Finally, O'Meara said he finds it objectionable that perhaps 200 Anchor Pointers are seeking to tax 2,400 area residents for a project that will benefit a small number of people in Anchor Point.

"This should be a municipal project," he said.

Anchor Point should incorporate if it wants to pursue a harbor, O'Meara added.

"The trouble is they can't sell the community on it," he said. "They presume everyone in the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area should be taxed to support their scheme. I really object to that."

Clark said incorporation has been discussed many times in the past.

"It continues to be, on the surface at least, an unpopular choice for the community," he said.

As for the larger service area, Clark sees it as a mechanism for acquiring grants. He does not expect the people of the service area to actually pay for construction and maintenance of a harbor.

If a feasibility study is done and comes back positive, that would be a good time possibly to redraw the boundaries of the service area or revisit the idea of incorporation Anchor Point as a second-class city, said Clark.



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