AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

New Unalaska harbor means no more cannery dock boat shuffle

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Creative Commons photo

Unalaska's new boat harbor was praised as long overdue and a big improvement over older facilities, at Saturday's dedication.

Crab captain Bill Widing likes a dock where his boat Aleutian Beauty can stay in one place all the time, without the "boat shuffle at cannery docks."

Widing praised the convenience of shore power, with electric outlets easily accessible for running the onboard utilities. While city electricity is expensive, it's still cheaper than the alternative of burning 100 gallons of fuel daily for the auxiliary generators, he said.

The new facility improves safety, since boats are easier for fishermen to get on and off, with boats always staying level with the dock that floats up and down with the tides, Widing said, compared to climbing 15 feet down a ladder at a fish plant.

And minus rafting, there's no the danger of falling between boats and drowning or getting crushed to death, especially when fishermen return to their vessels at night, Widing noted.

One of the first users was a reality television star who likened the harbor to a popular movie from Hollywood.

"Pretty sweet. It's like Field of Dreams. Build it and they will come," said Eric Nyhammer, captain of the 107-foot crab boat Rollo, comparing the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor to the movie about a baseball dream team.

Nyhammer said Sunday that he likes the new facility so much that he doesn't mind paying for dock space, although he could tie up for free at Westward Seafoods. What makes it worthwhile is no more boat shuffle, said Nyammer, who appeared on the Deadliest Catch reality show about crabbing, on the Discovery Channel.

At Westward, Nyhammer said, as many as six boats can be tied together, a rafting system requiring frequent movement or shuffling as vessels come and go at the seafood processing plant.

Record sea ice covering the Bering Sea snow crab grounds created a lot of downtime and frustration for crabbers, but at least the Rollo had a nice new place to tie up, a bright spot in a bleak season that was extended into June before crabbers finally caught nearly all the 88.9 million pound quota.

One harbor improvement suggested by Nyhammer is clothes washers and dryers for smaller boats.

The harbor has 54 slips for vessels up to 150 feet long, a boat launch ramp and boarding float, a drive-down float, floating breakwaters, a light cargo crane rated to 2,500 pounds, shoreside restrooms and showers, and other services, according to the city.

"This is a facility that the public can be very proud of," said Unalaska city natural resource analyst Frank Kelty, recalling boats breaking loose during January storms while tied up together at local fish plants.

The project was a long time coming, with federal agencies requiring two environmental assessments and a full environmental impact statement, Kelty said.

The dedication marks "the end of a 14 year journey," and "lots of trials and tribulations," Kelty said.

Not every Unalaskan supported the construction of the new harbor at the Little South America area on the south side of Amaknak Island. They voiced their opposition at numerous rancorous city council meetings about 10 years ago.

Walter Tellman was among the harbor opponents, some who worked for a city-funded recycling program that was defunded in the midst of the bitter battle.

Tellman said Monday he didn't want to overly revisit the controversy.

"You say something that hurts people's feelings in this town, and they want to take you down," he said.

Still, while he notes what's done is done and that local small boats are using the harbor, he wonders if it didn't take too much money to build, and how much it will cost to maintain.

"I question the costs, and whether they may been different from the original proposals given to the public," Tellman said.

And a negative nickname is already floating around, "One percent harbor," from fishermen who say it is unaffordable and caters to the economic elite.

While the opposition was strongly stated, public support for the new harbor was demonstrated in an advisory ballot question approved by voters by a 2 to 1 margin.

The project is jointly owned by the city and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The city owns the inner harbor, while the Corps owns the floating and rock breakwaters, and will pay for their maintenance as well as channel dredging, said the agency's Steve Boardman.

While the harbor has been nearly empty much of the time, and would have been emptier in a normal snow crab season, Boardman predicts that with the completion of floating breakwaters this month, the harbor will soon fill up.

Fishing boats first started using the new harbor late last year.

Unalaska city manager Chris Hladick said the long march to harbor completion occurred during the terms of 65 city council members and at least four mayors.

"It's a testimony to the tenacity of the people who live here and Carl E. Moses," Hladick said.

Former Unalaska resident and state representative Moses traveled from Sand Point, where he was introduced by Mayor Shirley Marquardt at the outdoor ceremony marked by the Aleutian Chain's most famous weather, chilly wet and windy, though not too bad by local standards.

Moses said he'd been advocating for a new harbor since 1966, and said the city shouldn't hesitate to plan for the second phase expansion.

"We're going to need it," Moses said. "I'll bet my bottom dollar on that."

Large tents were erected for the luncheon following the speeches, with free servings of pulled pork sandwiches and salads and soda pop, and the distribution of souvenir baseball hats with the city ports logo on the front and the harbor's name on the back, along with pins and buoyant keychains.

The harbor was constructed by Pacific Pile and Marine, of Seattle, and company vice president Chris Willis said the project "went remarkably well," with an increasingly rare display of teamwork between the various parties involved.

This article was originally published by The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission. Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin(at)reportalaska.com.