1. What is the purpose of the feasibility study?
The study, led by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in cooperation with the City of Homer, has been initiated to address Homer Harbor’s capacity challenges and to identify solutions to accommodate both existing and future demand for moorage. It will also address the navigational hazard that the small boat harbor entrance represents for large vessels. The study is meant to:
- Identify means to accommodate large marine vessels presently tied three abreast on the transient float in the small boat harbor, as well as other large vessels that wish to homeport at the Harbor but are currently turned away because there is no room
- Address the need to moor the Coast Guard’s Cutter Aspen and potentially provide short-term moorage for the Coast Guard’s new fast cutter fleet for layover, provisioning, and repair work
- Assess a range of potential impacts that the proposed alternative design solutions would have on the environment
- Simultaneously identify and evaluate the local or non-Federal support and infrastructure needed to move the project forward should an expansion be recommended by the study. Assessments will also be made regarding potential impacts on supporting infrastructure and the community
- Consider community input throughout the study’s three-year timeline, as your feedback will be crucial; please visit the “Get Involved” page to learn about upcoming opportunities to become involved.
2. Won’t the harbor expansion and potential increase in large boat traffic increase the likelihood of environmental problems?
A robust environmental review process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is required prior to the start of any construction. A NEPA document (e.g., environmental assessment [EA], environmental impact statement [EIS]) will be developed to provide an analysis of the proposed alternative designs and any associated environmental impacts .
3. Why does Homer Harbor need more space?
For years, demand for moorage in Homer’s Small Boat Harbor has far exceeded the harbor’s capacity. An expansion would support a robust future for Homer’s maritime community, including navigational safety and regional connectivity.
- Harbor staff have creatively utilized the current harbor float system to meet demand. They accommodate 40 large vessels (86 to 180 feet) by rafting them three deep to transient floats. Staff members can fit 1,400 small vessels into about 900 stalls and 5,000 linear feet of transient side-tie moorage, however there is still a significant waitlist for small vessel space.
- While staff have found ways to creatively utilize the existing port and harbor to its fullest extent, it comes with costs that include accelerated depreciation of the harbor’s float systems, vessel damages and delays, and navigational hazards in the harbor’s narrowed travel lanes.
- We are at risk of losing vessels in our harbor, which could have negative economic consequences including job loss and reduced revenues.
- Expanding the harbor will support the region’s strong and diverse economy by meeting today’s needs, promoting job opportunities in the marine trades and support sectors, and positioning Homer Harbor to flexibly meet future needs.
4. What are the issues this study will address?
This study and concurrent efforts will assess several key aspects, including:
- Alternative approaches and designs to solve identified challenges, including the impacts of a no-build option:
- The design alternatives will address increased demand for harbor space, navigational safety risks in the harbor’s narrow travel lanes and at the mouth of the harbor, and improved ability to serve the diversity that commercial fishing, barge operations, research vessels, charter services, and own-boaters bring to Homer’s economy.
- Each alternative design approach will evaluate:
- Impacts that changes to the harbor would have on the local community and infrastructure such as roads, traffic, and the electrical grid
- Economic opportunities and risks associated with changes to the harbor’s design
- Potential costs associated with changes to the harbor’s design
- Potential ecological impacts that the harbor’s proposed design would have on Kachemak Bay and surrounding areas, and the mitigation measures that might be required to address them
- Potential impacts the recommended changes to the harbor’s design would have on other uses of the Spit such as the tourism and fishing industries
- Whether the benefits of the project merit Federal investment in construction.
5. If this harbor expansion happens, does this mean Homer will host large cruise ships and freighters?
No. This three-year study will look at how the harbor could accommodate more and larger boats. However, local and regional market conditions, combined with the state of other infrastructure around the harbor such as electrical transmission lines and roads, mean that Homer is not designed to accommodate huge ships such as those serving the ports of Vancouver, B.C., or Tacoma, WA. There are foundational market, geographical, and community factors that will likely continue to limit the size of vessels serving Homer.
6. Who is paying for this harbor expansion study?
There is a cost-sharing agreement between the City of Homer and USACE. Each entity is expected to pay 50 percent of the roughly $3 million total cost. Half of the City’s contribution has been funded by the State of Alaska.
7. Have all the necessary funds for this harbor study been allocated?
The City has secured its 50 percent share of the funds—which is approximately $1.5 million. USACE has secured funding needed to support the study through 2023 and is actively working with federal legislators to secure funds for the study’s remaining two years. We are confident the USACE will secure the funding needed for the remainder of this important study.
8. When will the study findings be made public and how can I stay informed?
The study will take approximately three years to complete. Stay involved by joining our mailing list to hear about the latest updates and share your input!
9. The harbor is overcrowded now and unable to accommodate the existing demand; will this study help improve this situation in the short term?
The harbor expansion study is an important first step to determine how the overcrowding issue could be addressed, along with identifying changes that could allow the harbor to accommodate future demand. The study alone will not solve the current problem of the harbor’s overcrowding as addressing this challenge will take several years.
10. Besides the USACE and the City of Homer, what other entities are involved in this study?
Residents, local elected officials, city staff, and business leaders will be involved through numerous engagement opportunities. Additionally, the State of Alaska is supporting the study through a funding match to the City.
11. If the study concludes that an expansion of the harbor would be beneficial, when would construction start, and how long would it last?
At this point, it is too soon to speculate on possible construction schedules, costs, or harbor design options. Completing the current three-year feasibility study is an important step, but the study alone will not result in any short-term harbor construction, nor does it indicate certainty that a harbor expansion will be pursued. The study will evaluate the opportunity, and the results will guide next steps.
12: Why were alternative 3a and 3b not carried forward?
Alternatives with floating breakwaters were not carried forward due to the typical wave conditions/characteristics of Kachemak Bay. A floating breakwater would need to be excessively large to create a tranquil harbor. The 40-mile-long bay is problematic for constructability and cost, as well as the potential environmental footprint.
13: Why was Alternative 4 not carried forward?
There were a variety of reasons why Alterative 4 was not carried forward. The primary reasons for not advancing this option are inefficiency and it being non-cost effective. Alternative 4 doesn’t meet the project goals of creating additional moorage for larger vessels to address overcrowding. Additionally, excavation would require a total reconfiguration of service lines, including but not limited to water, sewer, and electrical, as well as float systems serving the harbor, which would significantly increase cost relative to the alternatives that were carried forward. There is also a concern that the current breakwater may not be structurally sound with increased harbor depth (to accommodate large vessels) and/or if a portion of the uplands were removed.
14: Why was Alternative 5a not carried forward?
A new location in the Diamond Creek area would face challenges associated with environmentally protected land and private property. Additionally, developing a harbor at a new location would require significant upland infrastructure development such as roadways, utilities, and separate Port and Harbor offices, which would significantly increase cost. This location would be exposed to Cook Inlet as well as Gulf weather and wave conditions, making it more hazardous.
15: Why was Alternative 5b not carried forward?
A new harbor east of the Homer Airport would be challenged due to extremely shallow water, which would require a substantial dredging or a causeway (roadway over a waterbody) to develop a harbor with adequate depths. Additionally, developing a harbor at a new site would require land acquisition, and significant upland infrastructure development such as roadways, utilities, and separate Port and Harbor offices, which would significantly increase cost.
16: Why was Alternative 5c not carried forward?
If Seldovia was to be considered as a location for a new harbor, it would need to be done under a separate USACE feasibility study in collaboration with the land-owner, City of Seldovia.City of Homer does not own land/property in Seldovia and as such has no ability to develop in this area.
17: Why was Alternative 6 not carried forward?
This concept would require replacement of most if not all vessel floats in the current harbor to serve larger vessels, which would have a significant local service cost compared to other alternatives. Additionally, the entrance channel and harbor depth of the existing harbor was designed for smaller vessels and would need to be reconfigured to handle larger vessels. Some other reasons why this alterative wasn’t carried forward is because it doesn’t relieve congestion, nor does it incorporate uplands.
18. Why was Alternative 7 not carried forward?
Rearranging the floats in the existing harbor does not meet the USACE project objectives. Concepts like diagonal mooring for larger vessels do not meet the needs of all larger vessels as some vessels cannot back into slips. Rearranging floats does not alleviate congestion within the existing harbor. In addition, some moorage would be lost with this design.
19. Did the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, City of Homer, and HDR (the project delivery team) consider an alternative that limits expansion of the harbor to the current surface footprint (not expanding outside the Homer Spit) to reduce impacts on the environment?
Yes, this was considered and evaluated as a standalone alternative (alternative 4) and a measure that could be implemented with other alternatives.
As a standalone alternative, excavation to increase available fleet space within the current harbor’s footprint would not provide enough acreage to meet the study’s needs or objectives, and the currently installed infrastructure would need to be removed and replaced at an excessive cost to the City. Additionally, the existing harbor does not address the needs of larger vessels, including deeper draft and improved safety for ingress and egress. Creating a deeper draft within the current footprint also raises significant concerns regarding the stability of existing breakwaters.
An alternative similar to this was assessed in a previous study, but it did not provide the overall benefits required to advance the project. Furthermore, uplands property is a valuable economic driver for the City and sustainability of the community’s maritime economy. Uplands are used for harbor patron parking, shipping, and receiving, lease revenue, and industry support for the fleet. An alternative that requires excavation and removal of current uplands would have adverse economic consequences while not fully addressing fleet needs.
In an effort to minimize the footprint of a new harbor basin, an expansion of the current harbor basin was also considered as a measure in combination with other alternatives. This would pose the same issues as a standalone alternative, while not significantly reducing the size of the new harbor basin’s footprint and the associated potential impacts on the environment.
20. Has the project development team already selected a preferred design or construction materials to be used for the new harbor?
No, preferred design or materials have not been selected for the harbor expansion. The Homer Harbor Expansion study is currently focused on assessing the feasibility of building a new harbor basin for large vessels and addressing the environmental considerations of building that basin. From evaluation and screening of design alternatives identified at the public design charette in May 2023, the project development team is working with five alternatives that are in the conceptual design stage, and the team has not yet advanced to the point of recommending construction materials.
21. I hear the study will be paused for a period of time. Why? And for how long?
The Homer Harbor Expansion received $300,000 in FY23 Congressionally Designated Spending (CDS) funding to initiate the new start General Investigation (GI) study. Due to a misunderstanding between federal entities regarding how the USACE budget and CDS funds would interact for multi-year projects, the study was not included in the FY24 USACE budget. Neither were additional CDS funds allocated; thus, the study is now facing a federal funding gap and delay. Other USACE new-start GI studies funded through FY23 congressionally directed spending are in similar situations, and efforts to remediate the federal funding challenge are underway.
Due to the federal funding gap, work on the study will continue at a slowed pace, with a reduced staffing level through January 2023. The USACE project development team has been open to creative solutions to stretch the current federal funding, utilize work in kind, and generally optimize the budget to minimize the delay and its impacts.
USACE is actively pursuing two potential sources for federal continuation funding: (1) unused funds in the FY24 Workplan and (2) inclusion in the USACE FY25 Workplan and the President’s FY25 Budget. The former would allow study resumption in July 2024; the latter, a more likely option for continuation funding, would allow study resumption in October 2024. While there is no way to secure an advance guarantee of federal funding, failure to fund the completion of an initiated project would be an unprecedented act by USACE. The team will know more in spring 2024 as federal budgets are created.
22. Why did the project cost increase?
The initial Federal Cost Share Agreement (FCSA) for the GI study was for $3 million. Upon reaching the Alternatives and Measures Milestone and reviewing the existing geotechnical data for the area, the USACE project development team reconsidered the tasks to be completed during the study and added geophysical analysis and ship simulation to the scope of work to better inform choices about the materials, design, and locations of alternatives. These new elements add $1,154,093 to study’s original cost of $3 million.
Geotechnical analysis is a necessary component of all USACE harbor designs and was added to the feasibility study stage so that the PDT would have sufficient data to:
- inform choices about the materials, design, and location within the project area of the preferred alternative; and
- produce a more accurate design and more reliable cost estimate on which to base decisions regarding advancement of the Homer Harbor Expansion.
Based on the USACE Alaska District’s experience with the Valdez and Kake Harbors, design and cost estimates completed during the GI phase without the benefit of geophysical data have yielded unfavorable results. Lack of geotechnical data could result in a 26 percent or greater increase in total breakwater material.