HOMER -- Under brilliant blue skies and backed by a fire truck pumping a powerful stream of white water high into the air, U.S. Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski and others cut the ribbon dedicating Homer's new Pioneer Dock in a well-attended ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
"Homer is one of the really bright spots in Alaska," Stevens said addressing a large gathering before cutting the ribbon. "We've come through a lot of storms and a lot of chaos down here -- the earthquake ... and so many other things -- and you have persevered and maintained what I tell people is the Mediterranean of Alaska. It is a place we all love to come to and we know that you love to keep it up and improve it and make it more permanent."
Murkowski noted Homer's long relationship with the U. S. Coast Guard. It was the possibility that Homer might lose the Coast Guard presence that spurred the city to seek the help of the state and the federal government in building the new U-shaped steel and concrete facility.
The wooden Main Dock it replaces, built following the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, was too old, too weak and didn't reach water deep enough to accommodate the new Juniper Class Coast Guard vessels or the larger Alaska ferries about to come on line.
A collaboration of local, state and federal agencies found the funding to build the $12 million facility, which is capable of handling even cruise ships as long as 850 feet. It will be home to the USCG Cutter Hickory due to arrive next year to replace the aging Buoy Tender Sedge.
It also will serve the Alaska Marine Highway ferries Kennicott and Tustumena. Its larger size makes it capable of handling containerized cargo.
"What you are doing here today is great for the city of Homer," Murkowski said. "The presence of the Coast Guard in Alaska communities is very much a part of the lifestyle. And the contribution works both ways."
Murkowski said most things, given enough time, become due for replacement.
"There are a few exceptions," he said turning to Stevens. "And my senior colleague is one of those exceptions."
Stevens is running for re-election; he has been a member of the U.S. Senate since December 1968.
Murkowski said he spoke with Rep. Don Young, who wanted to attend the event, but couldn't.
"We were talking about what to bring, and I said, 'Well, probably, what they really need is a little sunshine,' and he said, 'Well, we can't give them sunshine, we'll give them a little global warming.' Anyway, for whatever that's worth, ... Don wanted to be remembered."
Murkowski went on to say that Alaska thrives on strong transportation infrastructure and the completion of the Pioneer Dock was important because it "is a symbol of how we can come together and make our state healthy and respond to the transportation needs."
He called the dock project "a model of how to get things done."
The dock, already in use, was designed by the Anchorage firm of Tryck Nyman Hayes Inc. and built by Hurlen Construction Company, of Seattle. Mostly cosmetic work remains to be completed by later this summer.
"The reason we are putting this dock together is not for the pioneers we are honoring with it, not for the current pioneers who had the vision to build it, but for the next generation," said Homer Mayor Jack Cushing.
"This dock is going to be here for 30, 40, 50 years from now and be a vital part of our commerce and our stability as a city, and our military presence and just what we have to offer with the marine transportation system."
Also on hand to address the audience was Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Underwood.
"We are quite pleased to have a new pier waiting here for the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory as Sedge's old berth would not have been suitable for this new cutter," he said.
"The tremendous cooperation of everyone here today in completing Pioneer Dock is the principal reason Hickory's crew will call this fine city home."
He noted Homer's proximity to the important port of Anchorage and critical infrastructure at Nikiski and Valdez, which, he said, had proven "quite advantageous for us as we work to safeguard the coast in the wake of the events since 11th of September."
The Coast Guard, he said, has been handed a new mission -- homeland security, a job he called "the mission for the Coast Guard in the 21st Century."
Others on hand for the event included former Rep. Gail Phillips, now a candidate for lieutenant governor, as well as Rep. Drew Scalzi, along with a host of Homer city officials.
Gov. Tony Knowles, who earlier had been expected to attend, was unable to make it.
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