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U.S. Senate bill includes money for harbors in Homer, Seward

Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2003

Harbor projects in Homer and Seward are in line for funding in federal energy and water legislation that won approval from the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee last month, according to a press release from Sen. Ted Stevens.

The fiscal year 2004 Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Bill currently is awaiting action on the Senate floor. If adopted as written, Seward Harbor would get $1 million for a harbor expansion project, while Homer Harbor would receive $370,000 for operations and maintenance work, as well as $100,000 to continue an Army Corps of Engineers harbor expansion study.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the Energy and Water legislation July 18 but included no funding for the Homer and Seward projects.

Any differences in the two versions will be reconciled in a conference committee.

The bill is one of 13 passed each year to fund the Corps of Engineers and certain programs of the Department of Energy.

Phil Shealy, who took the job as Seward's city manager in June, said he is assuming the $1 million in the bill is aimed at replacing floats that have been in place since reconstruction after the 1964 earthquake, and at making other improvements to the harbor to serve the fishing fleet, such as adding utilities.

The city and the Corps each have about $5 million set aside for a harbor expansion project that is to add enough space for approximately 100 new slips, Shealy said. The city will be responsible for adding the floats and utilities, and at this point, is about $6 million short of the necessary funding.

Expanding the harbor will require moving a breakwater and dredging.

Harbors are vital to Alaska's coastal communities, Shealy said, but they are expensive facilities needing constant attention.

"It's almost an endless process," he said.

Bill Abbott, port director and harbor master in Homer, said the $370,000 in the bill is an annual appropriation to the Corps for regular maintenance dredging in Homer Harbor.

The $100,000 will cover completion of a reconnaissance study already under way that is looking at expansion harbor facilities in Homer.

As originally conceived, the project would involve building a separate 15-acre harbor northwest of the existing harbor at a location on the Homer Spit now used for beaching barges.

However, Abbott said, the study has now produced two other alternatives.

One would build the new harbor adjacent to the existing harbor on the northeastern side of the 30-acre landfill used for storage and as access to the city's Deep Water Dock. The new harbor would have its own breakwaters and entrance and be separated from the existing harbor by the landfill.

The other alternative would be to expand the existing harbor to the east, cutting into the 30-acre landfill to the road leading to the Deep Water Dock.

"We would have to remove and reinstall utility piping and the high-mast lighting, ramps and gangways and a Coast Guard building," Abbott said of the third alternative, "but it is the least costly alternative."

The city, he said, favors building the new harbor on the eastern side of the landfill. It would cost more to build, but be less expensive to maintain.

"There would be hardly any maintenance dredging," Abbott said.

That alternative would have other advantages, he said. It would be built in deeper water, which, among other things, would allow the Coast Guard to cold berth the cutter Roanoke Island at its own dock. That would allow for a required security zone around the vessel, something its current location inside Homer Harbor does not permit.

It also would allow the cutter Hickory, a buoy tender, to dock there in bad weather or in times of high alert.

During normal times, the Hickory would continue to berth regularly at the Pioneer Dock, where it conducts loading operations, Abbott said.

The Senate bill also contains $48.5 million that would funnel through the Denali Commission for various public works projects, including $5 million for community showers and washeterias in villages with homes lacking running water, $5 million for multipurpose community facilities and $5 million for the Rural Communications Service and the Public Broadcasting Digital Distribution Network.

The communications service will use the funds to upgrade Alaska's public radio stations to digital broadcasting, while the network will link rural public radio stations together to improve economies of scale, share programming, and reduce operating costs, according to the Stevens' press release.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski requested that from that $48.5 million, $10 million be set aside for teacher housing in remote villages and another $10 million used for facilities serving village elders and senior citizens to enable them to stay in their home villages.



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