Juneau Docks and Harbors, UAS to restart talks over Auke Bay lab

The Auke Bay Marine Station on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. Juneau Docks and Harbors is interested in the property for a potential expansion of Statter Harbor. (Photo Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

The Auke Bay Marine Station on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. Juneau Docks and Harbors is interested in the property for a potential expansion of Statter Harbor. (Photo Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly has given clear direction to city staff to try and mend fences with the University of Alaska Southeast over a prime piece of federal property up-for-grabs on Auke Bay.

Both the city’s Docks and Harbors division and the university have competing applications with the federal government to take possession of the former NOAA Fisheries Auke Bay Marine Station next to the city’s Statter Harbor.

Previous attempts at forging a joint application stalled last year. But speaking Monday evening at a joint meeting of the Juneau Assembly and the Docks and Harbors board, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield said the university remains open to a joint plan.

Rick Caulfield

“We’re interested in continuing to work with the city and see if we can’t find an arrangement that would work for Juneau,” Caulfield said. “But I do want to share our vision of what we believe is possible on this property if we can keep that kind of partnership in focus.”

The city’s Docks and Harbors has its own ambitious plan to extend boat slips from Statter Harbor to serve commercial fishing vessels, tourist boats and even small cruise ships. The city had offered to lease the main laboratory building to the university on a 30-year lease.

But Caulfield says the university is hesitant to invest $15 million in a building it didn’t own.

“We have some concerns about making the investments that would be required to really utilize this property fully and not have, if you will, if not fee-simple title but good control over use of the property,” he said.

Members of the Docks and Harbors board then put the question to the chancellor directly: “If the university’s questions were answered, if all the issues were addressed, is there any scenario that the university would drop its application and combine it with the city’s?” asked board member Dave Summers.

“There could well be an arrangement where we would do that. But again I think we would need to sit down and work through some of the questions that I’ve pointed to,” Caulfield replied.

Juneau Assembly members concluded by directing the city manager’s office to resume talks with the university over the 4-acre property. That doesn’t leave a lot of time. The federal General Services Administration is expected to make a ruling on the applications before May.

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