The Biden administration has announced a $20 million federal infrastructure grant to replace Haines’ freight and fuel dock. It was one of only three projects in Alaska announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday.
This year the Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program awarded nearly $1 billion to 90 infrastructure projects nationwide, including Haines Lutak Dock replacement project.
Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud says it’s an exciting development, and many years in the works.
“We always felt it was a long shot. But with the RAISE program, one of the things they’ve told us is that the more times you put in, the better chance you have of getting it,” Olerud said. “I think this is the fifth or six year that the borough has submitted an application.”
Lutak Dock is Haines’ only freight and fuel dock. It’s an essential transit point for supplies from Southeast Alaska and Seattle-area ports. The $20 million project would pay for demolition of a dock that’s outlived its 60-year life span.
In its place would be a modern bulkhead with fenders and mooring dolphins capable of 350-foot vessels.
“The reason we’ve been pushing this is the face of the dock, we’ve been told, is at the point of failure,” Olerud said. “And so if that was to fail, and impede barges docking, we wouldn’t be able to get our groceries and other goods that come in on the barge.”
The project would also relocate the boat launch ramp and create a new uplands area, Olerud says.
Fuel and freight delivery will not be interrupted while the new dock is under construction, as Alaska Marine Lines will continue to deliver via the roll-on-roll-off ramp.
Olerud says there’s no projected timeline yet, but he estimates the project could take up to five years.
“With engineering permitting, we’re probably two years out from being able to start digging in the ground. And so that’s my cautiously optimistic timeline,” he said.
The Lutak Dock redevelopment project has been the topic of controversy and years of public debate focused on whether it would include construction of an ore terminal.
Mayor Olerud says it doesn’t, as there is no supply from mines in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
“You need ore to have an ore terminal. Right now, in the Yukon, there is not enough ore that somebody’s willing to sign a contract to ship through Haines to make the investment in building an ore terminal a viable concern,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for the borough to build something just hoping somebody is going to use it at some point in time.”
Olerud says the Palmer Project, spearheaded by Vancouver-based Constantine Metal Resources and located in the upper Chilkat Valley, is still in the exploratory stages. And so not included in the current plans for the dock’s redevelopment.
“So until the Palmer Project by Constantine gets further along, and it looks like they would be willing to sign an agreement to export X number of tonnes of ore per year off of a facility. Or that there’s more mines in the Yukon that want to export any kind of material off of that. The ore terminal is waiting on all of those before anything would happen with that,” Olerud said. “But I don’t see that happening in the near future.”
The project is estimated to cost over $25 million. So the community will still need to borrow the $5 million difference or find some other way to pay for it.