A major expansion of Seward Small Boat Harbor, now in the planning stages, would add roughly 11.7 acres of protected moorage with hundreds of new slips.
Those are improvements city officials hope will reduce a sizable waiting list for slips and improve services to residents and visitors seeking access to Resurrection Bay, Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park.
The ambitious idea, designated the East Harbor Expansion Project, is part of the city's ongoing effort to write a master plan for the entire harbor area, including uplands. Under discussion for inclusion in the master plan are parking, repair grids, fire protection, cart parks, utilities, upland storage, off-float gear storage, fish-cleaning stations and future expansion ideas.
Planning efforts are being coordinated with the Alaska Railroad Corporation, which owns uplands on the north end of the harbor.
Seward city officials are expected to seek federal funds for dredging operations in the entrance channel and for construction of new breakwaters. Seward would develop and fund new floats and upland facilities.
"We'd like to add close to 300 more slips if we could," said Carl Stormer, an engineer with Tryck Nyman Hayes Inc. of Anchorage, the company hired by Seward to develop the master plan. Stormer is the project manager.
"There are two fleets that need to be satisfied," he said. "First, there's the recreational fleet, which takes care of the smaller slips in the 32-, 40- and 50-foot range. Then you have the commercial fleet in the 60- to 120-foot range. They need both linear moorage and dock space."
The trick, Stormer said, was trying to fit all that into a limited area.
Earlier this month, area residents and others were sent an eight-page detailed questionnaire seeking advice about what an expanded harbor should contain and how to improve and add services. The lengthy questionnaires were handed out at public meetings and mailed to slip holders, those on the waiting lists, anyone who has ever used a transient slip and local businesses.
Comments can be sent to Stormer, who can be reached at (907) 279-0543. The city has a Web site with the latest news about the project at www.cityofseward.net/harbor/default.html. Also, public workshops are planned in Anchorage on Dec. 16 and Seward on Dec. 18 to encourage public participation in the planning process.
Anne Brooks, an engineer with Brooks and Associates, is the public information coordinator for the project. The master plan will be developed over the course of the winter as more public input is taken. A draft is to be submitted to the city in April and council approval is tentatively scheduled for May.
The master plan, Brooks said, would give the city a solid development path, but its value will depend heavily on public input.
"We hope people will give us detailed comments and input on various elements of the harbor and where things should go when it is expanded," she said.
The initial meetings and responses to the questionnaire have been encouraging and helpful and included input from the recreational and commercial boating communities, Stormer said.
The data, he added, is helping the company focus its attention on specific needs.
The Seward Small Boat Harbor first went into operation in the early 1930s. Improvements were made periodically until the harbor was destroyed in the great earthquake on March 27, 1964. Restoration of the basin and breakwater construction began in August of that year, and replacement floats were added over the next several years.
In 1999, the state turned over ownership of the harbor to the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers quitclaim deeds to the tidal basin to the city.
There are 500 slips in the current harbor, with the majority of vessels served being in the 32- to 40-foot range. Some 395 boaters are on a harbor slip waiting list. Most of the boats in the harbor and much of the wait list are comprised of boaters from Seward and Anchorage; about 30 of those names are from the central Kenai Peninsula, Brooks said.
Stormer said if all goes according to plan, the city will continue efforts to secure federal funding for the expansion work. The dredging and construction of new breakwaters could begin as early as the fall of 2003, but that's about the earliest work could begin, he said.
Construction of the expansion itself would take at least a year.
"It would be the fall of 2004 before any float system could go into the expanded harbor and it would be more likely to be 2005," Stormer said.
Tryck Nyman Hayes is contracted to produce the master plan and some preliminary schematics of possible improvements. Once the city has the funding, it would put the actual design project out to bid, Stormer said.
Both the city manager and the harbormaster for Seward were out of town and not available for comment.
An increase in slips at Seward doesn't concern officials in Homer and Kenai.
Steve Dean, deputy harbormaster in Homer, said 300 or more new slips in Seward shouldn't make much of an impact on Homer Harbor, which recently added about 150 new stalls of its own.
"It might soften our market a bit for a year or so, but Kachemak Bay and Resurrection Bay are two different experiences," Dean said. "They need (expansion) because there's big demand, but I don't think it would hurt us in any significant way."
Keith Kornelis, public works manager and harbormaster for the city of Kenai said the river is the harbor at Kenai, a place for Cook Inlet salmon fishers to tie up. He said the Seward expansion caused him no concern at all as far as business goes.
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