The city-owned boat launch at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The city-owned boat launch at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

‘A win-win situation here is tough’: Controversial Amalga Harbor project heads to board

Nighborhood worried about fish cleaning mess

It was an idyllic June afternoon at Amalga Harbor, but despite a light breeze and gleaming water, the crowds that sometimes congest the waterway were nowhere in sight.

Tom Trego said the lack of anglers and boaters was a welcome surprise as he packed up a boat after some time on the water early Thursday evening. He said usually on a nice day —especially near the end of the week — there’s a lot of traffic in the narrow harbor.

“That’s why we got here a little early,” Trego said.

That crowding, which is exacerbated during low tide, is why a divisive fish cleaning float extension has been proposed for the harbor.

A planned 12-foot-by-75-foot would free up boarding for boat launches and retrievals and move fish cleaning lightly further from shore. The project is expected to cost $378,000 and include room for multiple of fish cleaning tables and a post-mounted sign that would warn of a rock outcropping and would cost another $48,000.

A fisherman approaches the boat launch with its current fish cleaning station at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A fisherman approaches the boat launch with its current fish cleaning station at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The fish cleaning aspect of the project and the extension’s angled protrusion from the existing dock have made it unpopular with residents of Amalga Harbor Road and their neighbors, who are dissatisfied with the amount of fish cleaning happening at the existing float.

[They don’t want fish guts or bears in their backyard]

Nearby residents are concerned about the impact in-harbor fish cleaning has on water quality, the smells associated with fish waste and the possibility that an easy food source will lead to dangerous bear behavior.

“We’ve been tracking the bear sightings, there’s a lot of bears, and they’re up in the tide flats already, so we’ll see what happens,” said Kaye Sullivan of Amalga Harbor Road. “It’s not going to fix the smells and all that comes with fish waste.”

She said the neighborhood would support a straight extension off of the existing float if it included rock removal and excluded fish cleaning.

Todd Brocious cleans his crab catch at the Amalga Harbor boat launch on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Todd Brocious cleans his crab catch at the Amalga Harbor boat launch on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Despite those concerns, Wednesday, the City and Borough of Juneau Docks & Harbors Operations Planning Committee recommended moving forward with the idea, and the full Docks & Harbors board will consider the matter Thursday evening.

At a May 30 meeting, the full board decided to delay taking action on the plan.

“We don’t know what the board’s going to do, but hopefully, they’ll listen to the overwhelming public comments that do not support this project,” Sullivan said.

Instead residents would like to see fish cleaning banned at the harbor and possibly have alternative cleaning sites.

A Christmas tree decorates an anchored platform at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A Christmas tree decorates an anchored platform at Amalga Harbor on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

While residents in Amalga Harbor’s immediate vicinity dislike the fish cleaning float plan, not everyone who uses the harbor does.

“It’s a good idea,” Trego said.

[Do you know the stories behind these Juneau totem poles or the stories they tell?]

He said moving fish cleaning further from shore might reduce the amount of fish viscera around during low tide.

“It gets nasty down there at times,” Trego said. “You’re going to have bears here anyway. ”

Chris Zimmer and Katie Fearer, two boaters at Amalga Thursday, were sympathetic to the objections raised by people in the immediate vicinity of the harbor, but also saw some upside to the project.

“It would certainly unclog the dock at some times,” Zimmer said.

But he said it probably won’t do much to improve the presence of fish waste or bear activity.

However, Zimmer was skeptical outright banning fish cleaning at the harbor would be a practical fix.

“How are you going to enforce that?” he asked. “A win-win situation here is tough.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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