City council member update on port and harbor plans

For nearly a decade, the community has looked at possibilities for an expanded harbor basin. While Homer Harbor boasts the largest single-basin in the state, most similar-sized coastal communities have multiple harbor basins to accommodate their fleets and businesses (think Kodiak, Sitka, Valdez, Unalaska). With large vessels often tied five deep to the dock, and a massive wait list for stalls, we know that our harbor is too small for the people trying to use it right now and it has been for a while. Our harbor staff and vessel operators have been fantastic working with the tight space, but there is a clear need for more space for our fleet to safely operate. Hence the General Investigation (GI) study with the Army Corps of Engineers to further explore and identify options for what an additional harbor basin could look like in Homer.

Harbor expansion has been, and will continue to be, a long-term project. As we navigate the study and especially at decision-making milestones, I believe it’s of utmost importance that we collectively understand the facts so that we can have productive conversations. To that end, I am taking a minute to address inaccuracies in the Homer News Nov. 21 cover story City Council Seeks State Funding For Harbor Expansion Plans and clarify where we are — and where we aren’t! — with the GI study.

Resolution 23-121 referenced in the article expresses the City’s general support for the State of Alaska Municipal Harbor Matching Grant Program. It was not a request to the State of Alaska for funds for the Homer Harbor GI. The 50:50 matching grant program was established in 2006 by the Alaska Legislature to help recapitalize and sustain Alaska’s public harbor transportation infrastructure. Like similar resolutions passed in prior years, Resolution 23-121 encourages full State matching funds for the projects submitted by different communities around the state, in this case for projects in Sitka and Juneau. Sometimes we have a project in line for possible funding, in other years, like this one, we do not. But regardless it’s a program we strongly support.

During the same city council meeting, we also discussed the Homer Harbor GI, and included in our packet was a letter sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office requesting $288,000 in matching funds in his capital budget. Geotechnical sampling and ship simulation modeling were added to the scope of the original GI study to establish a more reasonable cost estimate of an expanded harbor. This increased scope requested by the Army Corps of Engineers adds $1.17M to the study’s overall cost. The increased amount is required to be split 50/50 between our federal partners (the Army Corps of Engineers) and the local partners (City of Homer), and we are again looking to share that local match with the State of Alaska to the tune of approximately $288,000 each.

As we continue to move through this GI, and continue the important business of running the harbor and the City, please don’t hesitate to contact City Staff or members of Council with your questions, thoughts, and feedback.

Rachel Lord is a current member of Homer City Council.