The Port and Harbor Advisory Commission voted Wednesday night to recommend that the Army Corps of Engineers study the cost-benefit of expanding Homer’s harbor. The study would cost the city $50,000 and would take up to six months to complete. But the commission thought the possibility of moving the project forward was worth the cost.
Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said Homer’s harbor is bursting at the seems and there is a long waiting list of boats looking for a place to tie-up.
“We see vessels leaving this state to go moor in the Lower 48 harbors all the time,” he said. "We built small boat harbors, but we didn’t keep up with the times. That’s money leaving the state.”
Expanding the harbor has been a goal for a long time and the roughly $110 million project has been one of the city’s top priorities.
The state and the Corps conducted a feasibility study back in 2004. But after years of research, the city decided to stop analyzing the project in 2009.
“Rock was another huge cost driver for that project,” he said. “They had us bringing rock from Seward. We argued there was rock in Seldovia, but there was question about the quantity and quality of that rock.”
Hawkins said the city has found another source of rock in Cook Inlet since then, potentially reducing transportation costs for building material. Removing abandoned and derelict vessels from the harbor also hiked up the cost of expanding the harbor. Hawkins hopes there may be more stringent legislation coming down the line that would allow the city to hold others responsible, bypassing the cost of removing those boats.
If the Homer City Council approves the study, it’s unclear how far the Corps would permit the harbor to expand. The city hopes an expansion would allow another 40 to 60 boats to tie up in the harbor.
Advisory board member Catherine Ulmer believes an expansion will make a dent in the number of boats waiting for a spot.
“Even with getting those big boats out of our harbor we’re still not going to completely clear our list of small boats ready to take their place, are we?” she said. “We’re still going to have a wait list.”
If the study finds that the benefits of a new harbor outweigh the costs, the city may be able to get federal funding and could explore other funding mechanisms.
The city council is set to take up the issue after the new year. They have not set specific dates yet.