City and state leaders gather Monday at the gangway to Aurora Harbor for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

City and state leaders gather Monday at the gangway to Aurora Harbor for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Six years and one pandemic later, next stage of Aurora Harbor expansion is complete

New installations allow for longer vessels, provide utilities for final planned phase of project.

Another milestone in replacing the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor was celebrated Monday with a ribbon cutting for the third of four stages of planned reconstruction, occurring six years after the completion of the second stage as the COVID-19 pandemic added workforce and cost twists into the project.

The $4.25 million in upgrades for the third phase allows longer boats at the dock’s fingers, and provides additional electrical and water infrastructure that will also be utilized for the final stage of construction, said Carl Uchytil, port director for the City and Borough of Juneau. Also, by replacing all the aging wood planking on the docks the surfaces should remain stable for the next 50 years.

“A $10 million project is planned to complete the remainder of Aurora Harbor,” he told about 40 people, mostly with local and state government agencies, attending Monday’s ribbon cutting. “It is highly possible that we’ll be standing here again next year at this time to cut the ribbon for Aurora Harbor phase four.”

Uchytil also noted a list of other docks and harbors projects nearing completion including installing ship power facilities at the two city-owned cruise docks, more dredging for the fisheries area at Channel Wayside Park, and completion of the Taku Harbor approach dock.

While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was a serious disruption to normal ship activity, it also ended up having a beneficial side effect when officials decided to demolish the remaining obsolescence floats at Aurora Harbor before the third construction stage due to safety concerns, Matthew Sill, port engineer for CBJ’s Docks and Harbors Department, told the audience.

“We had all the staff that normally would have been working downtown with the cruise ship docks and they didn’t have a job to do because there were no ships,” he said. “And so we brought them all down to Aurora and gave them power tools, and had them demolish all the floats the north end of Aurora. “By 2020 those floats were dangerous, we shouldn’t have had people down here. So we got those all demolished. Our crew did a great job. They hauled everything to the dump.”

Construction workers hired by CBJ next pulled out the pilings and gangway, and then the harbor was dredged before the next year’s construction season, Sill said.

“If you recall, before that point it was really shallow — at low tide there were parts you could walk across here,” Sill said.

That, along with the longer fingers, is allowing larger boats to dock at the harbor, Uchytil said.

One major hardship resulting from the pandemic was the cost of the project, which like most other construction work resulted in skyrocketing bids from contractors, Sill said. That meant some of the installations planned for the third stage had to be omitted and are now planned as part of the final stage.

“We doubled our cost estimates and hoped for the best,” he said. “And the cost came in high. So if you’re looking at the first two phases of the project, those were built for around $145 a square foot. This phase here was around $300 a square foot. Basically the same design, the same floats. This is the world we live in today.”

Work began in February of 2023 and was completed June 1. According to a CBJ press release, funding for the third phase of the project includes about $2 million from an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities grant, and the remainder from CBJ Harbor Enterprise funds and CBJ’s 1% sales tax.

The final fourth phase of the project is scheduled to include the installation of two additional main floats, the addition of 42-foot slips and a 117-foot T-float to augment transient moorage at H Float, according to the press release, which notes “nearly $20 million have been invested in improvements to Aurora Harbor in the past decade.”

However, the planned $10 million final stage is relying on the same state funding match that made the third stage possible, said Don Etheridge, chair of CBJ’s Docks and Harbors Board. Gov. Mike Dunleavy needs to sign next year’s operating budget during the coming week since the new fiscal year starts July 1, so Monday’s ceremony gave Etheridge an opportunity to make a final plea to Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom who was among the featured speakers at the event.

“If we can get the governor to sign on that little dotted line, with a little help hopefully, then we will have the matching $5 million that will be enough to finish this project,” he said.

“I’ll do my part talking to the governor,” Dahlstrom said when it was her turn to speak.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Carl Uchytil, port director for the City and Borough of Juneau, shows the difference between existing and new planking on a dock at Aurora Harbor on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Carl Uchytil, port director for the City and Borough of Juneau, shows the difference between existing and new planking on a dock at Aurora Harbor on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Boats dock Monday at the longer fingers that are part of a newly completed stage of reconstruction at Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Boats dock Monday at the longer fingers that are part of a newly completed stage of reconstruction at Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom talks with city officials before a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom talks with city officials before a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

About 40 people listen to the national anthem during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

About 40 people listen to the national anthem during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to celebrate the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Chris Salazar fires a ceremonial cannon as dignitaries perform a ribbon cutting in the background during a ceremony celebrating the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Chris Salazar fires a ceremonial cannon as dignitaries perform a ribbon cutting in the background during a ceremony celebrating the completion of the third of four stages of reconstruction of the 60-year-old Aurora Harbor. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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