The last three state-owned docks within the new Petersburg borough could come under municipal ownership in the next several years. The Alaska Department of Transportation says it wants to give up the small but well-used harbor facilities at Papke’s Landing and the City of Kupreanof as well a much more remote dock in Hobart Bay. Such a transfer could mean some local money for sorely-needed repairs but there’s no formal proposal on the table yet. Matt Lichtenstein reports:

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In 2003, the City of Petersburg took over its then-state-owned Middle and South Harbors. The city took ownership of north harbor in 2006. According to State Ports and Harbor Engineer Mike Lukshin, the Alaska Department of Transportation is looking to transfer its three remaining dock facilities within the newly-expanded borough boundaries.

“They are the Papke’s Landing Float, the Kupreanof Float and the harbor at Entrance Island in the middle of Hobart Bay,” he says.

For decades, The state has had a policy of transferring harbor assets, including the liability and maintenance costs, to local municipalities.

“Since 1986, the department of transportation and public facilities has been asked to transfer those harbors that are of local interest to the municipalities when they are eligible and there was at one time a hundred harbor facilities that DOT was responsible for and we have transferred 75 percent of those back to local governments.”

That leaves 24 small harbor facilities still under state ownership, including the three in the Petersburg Borough. It’s been a long time since the DOT did any significant work on them.

“We work on the projects as we can through a deferred maintenance priority list subject to funding from the legislature,” Lukshin says.

The floats at Papke’s and Kupreanof were built in 1961 according to Lukshin, who says the state last did major repairs at Papke’s in 1989 as well as some additional maintenance in 1999. For the Kupreanof float, it’s been even longer. He says there were major repairs in 1978 and additional maintenance ten years later. The Entrance Island Float was built in 1956 and the state last did maintenance work on it in 1999.

If the borough chose to take over the facilities, it could mean some state money for repairs, but according to Lukshin, the deal would need the support of lawmakers.

“All I can say is that it would be subject to the provisions in statute which allows us to transfer those harbors to the borough. The borough would need to be willing and we would ask the borough to pass a resolution showing support for that and then, if there is a monetary amount, then we would use the resolution and go to first the Governor and then the Legislature and ask for support.

The legislature has traditionally appropriated money to transfer harbors; but the funding has often fallen short of covering the high cost of repairs to the aging facilities.

In early 2010, the DOT offered the Kupreanof Float to the City of Kupreanof along with just over a million dollars to repair or replace it. Kupreanof’s council passed a resolution to accept it, but the state never followed through with the deal.

According to Kupreanof City Councilor Tom Reinharts, the small municipality would still like ownership,” “We continue to be interested in taking responsibility for that. We feel that it is a facility within the city of Kupreanof and in cooperation with the borough we feel that it is the city’s responsibility and in the city’s best interest to maintain control of it so that we can insure that it does remain safe and does remain open and usable for everybody.” :25

The city of Kupreanof has been spending around five thousand dollars a year to keep the facility safe to use, according to Reinharts, but he says it is in dire need of more serious repairs.

Petersburg Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht thinks it’s important for the assembly to work with the city of Kupreanof on the issue:

“If they want ownership of that and all that that entails, I think it would be the right thing for the assembly to do, at least from my perspective, to help them make that happen. But, again, that’s an assembly level decision. I think that’s one of the advantages of the borough, would be to help weigh-in on that issue, to help the city of Kupreanof get what they think is the right thing for their city,” says Giesbrecht.

Giesbrecht expects the harbor board and the assembly will eventually weigh-in on the options for the Kupreanof float and the other state-owned facilities.

He has heard informally from assembly members as well as borough residents who are interested in borough ownership of the Papke’s landing dock, “and interest is the right word. The approach is still wide open,” he says.

The DOT only owns the dock and float at Papke’s. The boat launch ramps and much of the Parking Lot are owned by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The Alaska Mental Health Trust owns some of the adjacent uplands. The dock, ramps and parking areas are heavily used by businesses and residents who live in Petersburg and all along the Wrangell Narrows on Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands.

Dan LaForce owns a cabin on Kupreanof, about five miles south of Papke’s. He thinks it would make sense for the borough to take ownership of the whole facility so that it gets fixed up, “It’s important that get resolved and maintained. Its all in disrepair and I’m concerned that the dock itself is going to be condemned pretty soon and not even be able to be used at all.”

Along with potential ownership of Papke’s dock, Petersburg may also be able to select the DNR property as part of its borough land entitlements. If the municipality was interested in the Mental Health land as well, it would likely have to buy it.