Commercial fishing boats in Petersburg’s South Harbor (KFSK file photo)

Local voters could be deciding whether to borrow money for a major dredging project for Petersburg’s South Harbor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this year completed a feasibility study on the $10.6 million project and wants to start work on that dredging a year from now. Petersburg’s harbor advisory board Monday talked about the project and what it would mean for the borough.

The Army Corps is recommending dredging portions of South Harbor and removing a total of 82-thousand cubic yards of silt and sand to deepen the water way. It would be barged about two miles to a disposal site and dumped into Frederick Sound off Sandy Beach Road near a deep ocean area that has traditionally been used for scuttling old boats.

Harbor master Glorianne Wollen summed up the findings of the July 2019 study by the Corps.

“Bottom line is today it’s going to cost $10.6 million to get that South Harbor, that north end of the South Harbor dredged,” Wollen said. “And with the permits in place, who knows how long they’re good for, times are changing. It could be exponentially much costlier if these permits, if we can’t use them. Plus they’re willing to pick up 5.8 (million dollars) of it and we’re on the hook for 4.7 (million dollars) of it. So it might be the best deal we ever get.”

South Harbor holds some of the largest vessels that dock in Petersburg and the basin has a problem with boats grounding at low tide. She thought about a dozen had hit bottom this year, with some stuck vessels impacting other traffic. The harbor was constructed in 1983. It was updated an expanded less than 20 years later. Petersburg took it over from the state in 2000.

As proposed, the federal agency would be responsible for a portion of the work and the Petersburg borough the remainder. The Corps is proposing to dredge the harbor’s entrance channel and turning basins and would assume long term responsibility for maintaining that part of the harbor.

Again Petersburg’s share would be 4.7 million dollars. Wollen told the advisory board that there could be several ways to fund the work.

“How do we come up with that?” Wollen wondered. “You know that’s something we’re going to have to work through with the community. For you to know, we just got our raw fish tax. We have 3.8 (million dollars) in our savings account now, which is used for deferred maintenance projects, of which this is the biggest deferred maintenance project we have on the horizon.”

That savings has been built up from some of the state’s payment to the borough from commercial fisheries taxes. One possibility for funding is a revenue bond for some of Petersburg’s share. That would require voter approval to borrow the money and that would be repaid over time by harbor customers. And that debt repayment could start just as the borough finishes paying off debt for past harbor construction.

The board expected to have another meeting on the feasibility study and options for funding. Chair Bob Martin wanted to know about options.

“I would love to have more ability to look at what, if there are any choices to make. If it’s just a done deal take it or leave it or if there are any adjustments to make,” Martin wondered.

“It’s a done deal take it or leave it on the project, but there are a couple different ways to fund it,” Wollen replied.

The study itself cost 850,000 dollars and the borough paid nearly half of that amount.

Ultimately the board may make a recommendation to the borough assembly on whether to go forward with the project pending voter approval. The Corps proposes to start dredging October 1st of next year but that’s dependent on Petersburg coming up with the money for its portion of the work. That start date could also require a special election for voters to decide on the debt.