Governor’s veto wipes out $ 4.4 million for Craig’s new port; lawmakers say they will try again next year

The community of Craig on Prince of Wales Island will still have to wait for a new port project. The Alaska legislature included funding to kick off the project: it would add a new breakwater for a new port. But that will have to wait at least a year because Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vetoed the funding.

One of Craig’s two ports. (KRBD file photo)

For decades, the Craig Cannery has been the cornerstone of the West Prince of Wales Island community. Lifetime resident Ralph Mackie, writing in Empire Juneau in 2018, called him “The heartbeat of the city,” said the community “would wake up each spring to the cannery and go into hibernation each fall” when the fishing season was over.

For more than two decades, the old cannery in the northwest corner of Craig has been inactive. Craig City administrator Jon Bolling said the city would like to see the historic property play a role in the city’s future, as the site of a new port.

“Craig is a fishing community and the ports are a central part of the city’s infrastructure,” Bolling said in a telephone interview.

The city acquired ownership of the cannery in the mid-2000s. Since then, Bolling says city officials have dreamed of transform the 10-acre basin into a mooring space for more than 120 vessels. This would increase the total number of slips available to Craig by about half.

And it can’t come too soon. Bolling says the city has a multi-year waiting list for its two largest ports. He says a new marina would encourage investment in the community.

Bolling says the US Army Corps of Engineers is working on the first steps towards a new port.

“The phase we’re currently working on with the corps is about what the body calls navigation enhancements, which in the case of the project here at Craig is the design and construction of a breakwater,” he said. Bolling said.

And it costs money. The Army Corps would pay 80% of the estimated $ 22 million, but the town of Craig is tasked with finding the rest.

“At this point, the city’s estimated share of the cost of the breakwater is $ 4.4 million. The funding that was in House Bill 69, which was approved by the legislature, included the appropriation of $ 4.4 million. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed it, ”Bolling said.

A statement from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office says he is not challenging the project but rather the mechanism that would fund it.

“The Craig Harbor project was included in the GO [general obligation] governor bond package presented the last session to take advantage of low financing rates. Instead of taking advantage of these low rates, the legislature decided to use general fund dollars. The governor decided to veto it for this reason, ”wrote Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner.

A conceptual outline for the design of a new Craig Marina. (Image by the US Army Corps of Engineers)

Some $ 8.3 million for the port was included in a $ 356 million bond package offered by Dunleavy earlier this year. The extra money would go to stilts and floating docks – the Army Corps only pays for the breakwater, according to administrator Craig Bolling.

But this package of obligations was not adopted by the Legislative Assembly. Senator Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, whose district includes Craig, says the idea of ​​bonding has failed to gain traction.

“The legislature decided that we were not going to go ahead with the bond package due to financial problems in the future to pay the debt service, and that we were going to use some of the money. COVID to free up general funds and move forward and fund a lot of projects that were in that bond package, ”Stedman said in a telephone interview. “And the Craig Harbor was one of them.”

Stedman says Craig needs the project. But because a large chunk of federal pandemic relief funds don’t have to be spent immediately, he says the window for the project is not closed.

“We have the same opportunity next year with relief funds for COVID to help with capital budgets and the operating budget and other expenses. We will therefore come back to it next year, ”he said.

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, also represents Craig. He says he supported the governor’s bond package. But he says the veto was the wrong decision – he says he would just like the port to be funded.

“Penny-crazy, crazy-book, a bad decision,” he said over the phone. “It would have been, and hopefully always will be, a transformative infrastructure project for Prince of Wales. But it’s a huge setback. “

For his part, administrator Craig Bolling says he’s just happy to see lawmakers and the governor each want the port project to go ahead.

“We recognize that there is support for the project, and we want to build on that from now on,” Bolling said.

Stedman and Kreiss-Tomkins each say they will offer funding for the port project again next year.

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