Story last updated at 3:50 p.m. Thursday, May 16, 2002

Anchor Point debates harbor
by R.J. Kelly
Managing Editor

photo: news
  Photo by R. J. Kelly, Homer News
A tractor crew from Joey Allred Jr.s boat launching service recovers a boat on the Anchor Point beach Sunday. While the surf was relatively calm, the wind and currents often post risky conditions along the shore.  
"The tractor guy," Joey Allred Jr., has been making a good business out of launching boats in the wind-swept, strong currents off Anchor Point Beach for nine years.

Building a harbor or a protected boat launch on the site would put him out of business, but even so, Allred thinks a harbor is a good idea.

After more than a decade of recurring talk about developing a protected harbor near Anchor Point, residents may get the chance to vote this fall on the first step formal step aimed at determining if the project is feasible.

Following a May 8 public hearing which took testimony from 11 people in favor and six opposed, borough Assemblywoman Milli Martin plans to introduce an ordinance at Tuesday's Assembly meeting to put the question of forming an Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area before voters in the next election.

The service area is a key to getting the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a proposed $1 million feasibility study, but that is only one step toward making a harbor or protected boat launch a reality.

Although a harbor has strong support from local business representatives, preliminary data from the Corps do not appear promising that a full-scale artificial harbor would be practical.

Based on preliminary conclusions in a fact sheet from field checks of sites last fall and assessment of cost vs. benefits, Army engineer George Kalli found a $5.1 million boat launching facility would be "marginally justified."

A $15.5 million boat harbor would be "less likely to be economically justified."

Providing that about $500,000 can be found through a local sponsor, such as the service area, the Corps is expected to match that amount, to conduct what could be a three-year feasibility study to see if a harbor should be built.

The harbor service area, which would follow the same boundaries of the Anchor Point Fire District from the south end of North Fork Road to Happy Valley, would provide a legal cost-sharing partner for the feasibility stage.

Supporters of the project, including Tom Clark, president of the Anchor Point Chamber of Commerce, and local residents Al Poindexter and Dan Mumey hope the designation would allow the borough to channel other federal, state or private grants to pay for the local share of the feasibility study.

A petition that supported the ballot referendum also allows the service area to levy taxes on all residents in the district. The tax proposed is 10 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property. That would cost $10 a year for the owner of a property assessed at $100,000.

Opponents point out that the tax would only raise about $13,000 in the district and could later be raised if other funds, from boat-user fees or grants, fell short.

While reserving judgement on the harbor until studies are assessed, Martin said she is responding to requests from area residents.

"This is something we are putting before the voters to let them decide," Martin said.

Despite the costs involved, Martin noted that the project study is supported by the Anchor Point Advisory Planning Board and the Community Rivers Planning Coalition. "And the CRPC has been very successful in getting grants," Martin said.

Among the issues that might make the project too costly to build, according to the Army summary distributed May 8, are the prohibitive costs of constructing protective breakwaters to withstand the rough conditions in Cook Inlet.

Environmental issues may also hinder construction. The Corps said studies of the way sediment is moved along the beach and proposed harbor areas would also have to be done. Such a study would be needed to predict effects upon Clam Gulch Critical Habitat Area and fish migrations in the area.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," said Phillip North, an aquatic ecologist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Soldotna. Though not at the May 8 hearing, when asked about the proposal last week, North told the Homer News that any barrier might damage clam beds, juvenile salmon or sea duck habitat.

Safety is the biggest issue to Allred, who knows the beach and its tricky currents and shifting sands from years of his crew driving three large tractors into the surface to launch and retrieve boats.

With 125 boats launched at $35 each on a busy, peak season day, "It's a great little business," Allred said, "but I think there's going to be a need for a better way."

So far, Allred said his experience and concern have avoided accidents in the surf.

"We've been fairly successful, but it's a rodeo out there," he said. "We have days when everything just jells," but some launches can be tricky.

With commercial fishing in a decline, and more non-local recreational boaters and sport anglers seeking places to moor boats, Allred thinks a harbor would find many users.

"I'd like to see a feasibility study done and really put it to bed once and for all," he said. " The question keeps coming up again and again, but nobody has really studied it."

Longtime Anchor Point resident Susan Williams was among those speaking against the service area creation at the borough hearing. But she said Monday that she would like to see a safe harbor if the community could afford it.

Williams said she and her late husband, Jack, launched their boats off the beach hundreds of times, "and that's scary."

But she worries there isn't enough business to support it without raising taxes on local residents who may not even have boats.

"The businesses want it because they will get more income," Williams said, "but everyone else has to support it, and a lot of people don't have a lot of money."