City officials say waterfront development needs to start with St. Herman Harbor repairs

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Hurricane-force winds that hit Kodiak earlier this month delayed food deliveries and disrupted travel to the island. The windstorm also ripped out pieces of the city’s biggest boat harbor, and city officials say the damage highlights the need for repairs. 

An overhaul of Kodiak’s St. Herman Harbor, seen here in January, 2023, has been identified as a top priority for city officials. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

At last week’s city council work session, Harbormaster Dave Johnson detailed how a windstorm damaged Kodiak’s St. Herman Harbor earlier this month. 

“In that windstorm we did lose seven finger floats,” said Johnson. “So, I think that answers the question of how critical it is we get St. Herman rebuilt.” 

Finger floats are the smaller sections of dock in between vessels where they tie up; the city had previously been losing about one finger float a year, according to Johnson. 

St. Herman Harbor, which is also known as Dog Bay, is the largest of the city’s two boat harbors. It’s where the biggest vessels in Kodiak’s commercial fleet tie up. 

The harbor is 40 years old, and in some areas its infrastructure is literally crumbling. The city says an overhaul of St. Herman Harbor is the top priority on its list of Capital Improvement Projects for this fiscal year. 

Johnson told council members that in the days after the windstorm, a diver was sent down to remove a corroded piling that had partially collapsed. He anticipated it would take almost a full day to remove it. 

“When the diver got on site they rocked the broken piling back and forth for about 30 seconds and it broke off at the ground line,” said Johnson. “It just shows how degraded that piling was, and that’s kinda the condition of the whole harbor over there.”

Johnson told council members that the destruction caused by the windstorm, which produced gusts of up to 80 miles per hour, proves that critical repairs need to happen – soon. 

Details about the windstorm damage was part of a larger conversation about the city’s draft Waterfront Masterplan, which has been in the works for almost a year and was released by the city this month. The nearly 50-page document was prepared by a Fairbanks-based engineering firm RESPEC, and lays out improvements to the entire city-owned coastline, including expanding pedestrian amenities in downtown, recommendations for public use areas like Gibson Cove, and outlining short and long term infrastructure priorities in both of Kodiak’s boat harbors. 

Council members agreed that it was a nice long term vision, but any waterfront development needs to start with a replacement of St. Herman Harbor. Deputy City Manager Josie Bahnke said that’s the city’s main focus going forward. 

“I can’t express strongly enough that we are focused on the immediate needs of the harbor,” said Bahnke.

The project won’t be cheap. It’s expected to cost $56 million to replace the harbor’s existing infrastructure and expand its overall vessel capacity. The city had initially projected a $40 million price tag, but expanding dock space in addition to the repairs adds to the overall cost. Both the city and the Kodiak Island Borough are requesting state and federal funding for the project. 

The city is in the process of applying for grants – Johnson said he hopes to start work next year. 

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