Wrangell’s Inner Harbor

The Wrangell Port Commission decided last week that it will again consider increases to harbor and boat yard rates.

The commission discussed rates last year but did not make changes because there was some opposition from the public. It has been nearly a decade since Wrangell’s harbor rates have been significantly changed.

Harbormaster Greg Meissner suggested commissioners should first set a financial goal for the harbor department, and then adjust rates to work toward that goal. The department generates revenue from harbor, port and boat yard fees.

State funding for capital projects has nearly disappeared due to low oil prices, so the Wrangell harbor department will increasingly have to rely on its own savings account to repair and replace its infrastructure.

But Meissner said the harbor department is not saving enough money for future projects.

Meissner mentioned the $10 million Shoemaker Bay Harbor float replacement project as a prime example. Half of it is supposed to be funded by the state’s Harbor Facility Matching Grant Program. A quarter of the money would come from Wrangell’s harbor reserves, and a quarter would be funded by a bond.

“Once we float this bond, we’ll be starting literally from scratch,” Meissner said. “There’s just no money. So we have to do something if we want to do these projects. We need to slowly look at our rates, figure out what makes sense, and pay the bills and do improvements.”

The Shoemaker project might not even get the $5 million it needs from the state. Alaska’s matching grant program ranked Shoemaker as its second priority, but it is up to the state legislature to fund that program.

Gov. Bill Walker’s budget proposal would put $5 million in the harbor grant program. If that happens, Wrangell will get passed over for state funds and will be left with only a quarter of the money it needs to replace the floats at Shoemaker harbor.

John Yeager asked his fellow port commissioners what their long-term goal would be for the harbor department.

“Are we going to set a long-term goal and then break that down [into small yearly increases]? And that way there are no surprises,” Yeager said. “We need to attain this. How are we going to get there over this course of time, without it being a ginormous adjustment?”

Yeager added he would like to see improvements in harbor facility maintenance if rates are increased.

The port commission plans to continue its discussion of rates next month. A rate workshop is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 15, with a regular meeting to follow Feb. 16.

Any changes the Wrangell Port Commission decides to make to harbor rates will have to go through the borough assembly for approval as a city ordinance.