City eyes overhaul of Kodiak’s biggest boat harbor

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Kodiak’s St. Herman’s Harbor at sunset (Kirsten Dobroth/KMXT)

The City of Kodiak has outlined a list of capital improvement projects it hopes to fund this year. Among the city’s top priorities – and biggest expenses – are $40 million worth of repairs for its biggest harbor.

St. Herman Harbor – right by Near Island –  is the larger of Kodiak’s two boat harbors. Locals also call it Dog Bay, and the biggest vessels in Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet tie up there. But the harbor’s existing infrastructure is from the early 80s – and it’s in rough shape. 

On a recent Thursday, Kodiak’s harbormaster, Dave Johnson, pointed out corroded pilings that are patched together with Band-aid type metal casings. Pilings are important – they’re driven down into the bedrock of the seafloor, and the harbor’s built around them.  

“They have to withstand a lot of force,” said Johnson. “You think of the size of all these boats, we get 60 to 70 mile per hour winds ripping through here and all those mooring lines are pulling on these docks, which are pulling on these pilings, and that’s what can bring them down if they’re corroded through.”

There are other problems, too. Some of the finger-piers between boat slips are crooked and pulling apart. There are rusted-out electrical boxes. Other parts of the 40-year-old harbor are just really outdated. 

Johnson says it eats up manpower to keep up with the short-term repairs – and it’s expensive. He said the city loses about $90,000 per year just on slips they can’t lease because of structural issues with the docks; even more boats are on waitlists for a space. But Kodiak is one of the country’s biggest commercial fishing ports, and Johnson said getting repairs started would be an economic boon. 

“This is like, the largest commercial fishing fleet in the country, and they deserve a world class facility,” he said. “And this isn’t it.”

An overhaul of St. Herman Harbor is one of the city’s proposed capital improvement projects for the upcoming fiscal year. It’s also the most expensive item on Kodiak’s wishlist: the city estimates that it will cost roughly $40 million.

But at a recent joint work session between the city and borough, Kodiak’s lobbyist Sebastian O’Kelly said now might be the best time to get the project done, thanks to a recent influx of federal funding.

“I do think there’s a good opportunity with the Port Infrastructure Development Program, that program has been plussed up with significant additional dollars as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” he said.

Some of St. Herman Harbor’s finger piers are crooked and pulling apart, making boat slips unusable. (Kirsten Dobroth/KMXT)

That program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, now has $662 million dollars worth of federal grant funding available for waterfront development projects. O’Kelly said Kodiak might also be at an advantage because of the program’s updated criteria that emphasizes funding for rural ports and harbors.

“In the past, a lot of that money went to places like Long Beach and New York and then within the state to Anchorage,” he said. “So, I think you guys are in a pretty good position.” 

The city still has to apply for grants, and Johnson says he knows other harbormasters in Alaska are eyeing that money, too. But there could be a start date for the project on the horizon.  

“We’ve already got some preliminary designs and I’m really excited about them,” Johnson said.

The city is currently working through edits on its Waterfront Masterplan, which includes plans for St. Herman Harbor, to be presented to the public at a later date. Johnson says that his goal is for work to be underway by next year.

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