Petersburg’s borough assembly will seek more input on the possibility of taking over two or three remote docks from the state. However, assembly members this week re-iterated concerns about paying for the long-term operation and maintenance of those harbor facilities.
The state has offered three docks to the borough, at Papke’s Landing on Mitkof Island, the Kupreanof dock and a remote float at Entrance Island in Hobart Bay on the mainland north of Petersburg. The Alaska Department of Transportation, which owns the three docks, has offered just under 733-thousand dollars to the borough to go along with the remote facilities. Petersburg officials have met with the DOT about the offer this year but the borough has yet to respond formally, accepting or rejecting the state’s offer.

Borough resident Dave Kensinger told the assembly he’s used the Papke’s Landing dock since 1981 and thought that upkeep of these remote facilities were a reason people voted to support formation of the Petersburg borough in 2012. He did not think that leaving the docks in the state’s hands was a good idea.

“I think what we need to do is we need to figure out a way to work with the state, work with the users of those facilities, so that we can maintain them,” Kensinger said. “And I also think we need to look at maybe some different solutions for upgrading the facilities with the money we have.”

Borough officials think they could use the money from a transfer to seek additional grant funds for maintenance or replacement.

Another dock user, Kupreanof mayor Tom Reinarts said the state dock on the Kupreanof shoreline was offered to that city in 2010 but the transfer was later turned down by the state legislature. He said the dock is important to that city and the overall Petersburg borough.

“So therefore the city of Kupreanof would really like to work with the borough to find a way to make this happen and make this a facility that will be accessible to all borough residents on into the future,” Reinarts said.

The state dock provides access to the city of Kupreanof, just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg. (KFSK file photo)

The state dock provides access to the city of Kupreanof, just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg. (KFSK file photo)

Petersburg commissioned a facility assessment that determined both floats at Papkes and Kupreanof needed to be replaced. The estimated price tag on the Papke’s float is one point one million dollars, while the Kupreanof float could cost one point four million to replace. The floats at Papke’s and Kupreanof were built in 1961. The Entrance Island float was built in 1956. Throughout the discussion at the local level there’s been little interest in taking over the Entrance Island float. Mayor Mark Jensen said he’d heard from the DOT the possibility of only transferring two of the docks.

“They haven’t made it official yet but there’s discussion that they’re thinking about removing Entrance Island, maybe just the floating structure and leaving the pilings,” Jensen said. “Some of em are steel some of em are wood. But if they do that it wont be three or nothing it’ll be two or nothing potentially but then it’s also gonna reduce their offer from 700,000 to whatever they feel it’s gonna cost to demo Entrance Island.”

Papke’s Landing is used by several sport fishing lodges along the Wrangell Narrows, along with sport and commercial fishermen and other boaters from Mitkof Island and residents accessing remote homes in that area. Lynn suggested some combination of launch fees or a tax on recreation boats to support the cost of keeping that dock.

Assembly member Nancy Strand repeated her argument that the borough needed service areas to form and raise the money needed to take care of the docks.

Assembly member Bob Lynn disagreed. “I think the discussion needs to come back as to how we’re gonna pay for this,” Lynn said. “I’m not in Nancy’s camp that we should form a service area and those people out there oughta pay for instance for Papke’s. Those lodges, I believe the same thing that was said earlier, they pay taxes too now and I think we need to find ways to pay for it.”

Under Petersburg’s borough charter, harbor and port facilities are specifically named as a service that the borough provides on a borough-wide basis, not with service areas.

Several assembly members were supportive of trying to figure out a way to accept the docks from the state. However, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht reminded the assembly of other needs in the municipality’s future. “I mean I think Papke’s and Kupreanof are both valuable facilities, the problem is how do we pay for it?” Giesbrecht asked. “When we have a hospital out there that has been very open with the assembly about needing some money and a school district we’ve been funding with Secure Rural Schools money that is likely not to be there any more, those are really big issues that the community and the assembly are going to have to give us some direction on.”

The assembly did not take a vote on accepting the docks but talked about gathering more input or having public meetings about how to take over those facilities.