Assembly rejects bids for haulout project

A plan to build a 300-ton travelift stalled at the Sitka Assembly table this week. (Pictured: Wrangell’s Ascom boat lift hauls the 98-foot fish-packer St. Jude out of the water May 24, 2014. (Delton Claggett /KSTK)

A plan to build a privately owned marine haulout by next fishing season stalled at the Sitka Assembly table this week (6-30-20). How the city proceeds in the coming months depends on whether it secures a federal grant. 

When assembly members met in special session to review the final bid from SIMS, the Sitka Industrial Marine Shipyard [Web: Formerly WC Enterprises] to build a marine haulout, city administrator John Leach said the revised plan differed from what the city was looking for in its original request for proposals, or RFP.

That included changes to the type of lift they would build, and how the project would be funded. The final plan included the city backing a $375,000 loan for SIMS, and offering a three-year “ramp up” of zero lease payments. But they were still trying to leave room in the contract to pivot if more funding came through.

“That somewhat complicated the entire process, knowing that there’s potential for grant money to be invested versus private investment,” Leach said.  

Leach said the city was hoping to receive an $8.2 BUILD grant from the US Department of Transportation that would fund most of the haul out construction and make the lease and loan agreement unnecessary.

He said the possibility of federal funding was QUOTE “muddying the waters,” and recommended that the assembly reject all bids, wait for a decision from the DOT, and then go back to the drawing board with a more structured RFP.

The city is under pressure to find a solution soon, since the only show in town, Halibut Point Marine, plans to close down its marine haulout operation. No local haulout for boats will be tough on local businesses. Amy Underhill co-owns Underhill Marine, and said while they can go to other towns to get their boats serviced, it’s not ideal. 

“I appreciate that fishermen can go elsewhere to pull their boats, but for us that would mean a trip to Wrangell,” she said. “A couple of weeks living on the boat or in a hotel, transporting crew. Spending a lot of money elsewhere that would have been spent here in Sitka.”

Underhill said she was happy with the SIMS proposal — but there’s been considerable pushback from others in the fishing fleet. SIMS plans to acquire a 300-ton travelift, one that would not service boats smaller than 30 feet. 

Despite the concerns, the GPIP Board advanced the bid to the next stage. Once at the assembly table, however, most assembly members leaned toward rejecting the bid. But, as assembly member Thor Christianson said, that didn’t mean stopping the process. 

“Don’t waste the time,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. We are under a time crunch. I think at this point it’s extremely unlikely we’re going to have it in place before Halibut Point Marine shuts down…at some point we’re going to have to stop talking and start building.”

And Mayor Gary Paxton said, moving forward, city staff should develop two plans over the next few months. One for if they get the grant and one for if they don’t. City staff, he said, should check in with the assembly periodically about their progress. 

“I think the importance of this thing is to get it right, so strategically as much as I would like to have a functional haulout by next June, if it takes us an extra six months to get it but it’s the right thing, and it’s the kind of thing our fishing fleet needs and wants, I think that’s of a greater hierarchy than trying to piecemeal some structure between now and September,” Paxton said.

Ultimately the assembly voted unanimously (5-0) to reject all bids, effectively starting the RFP process over. Leach says the city should receive word about the BUILD grant by September, at which time they’ll issue a new request for proposals.