Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

McDowell Group shares extensive draft for Dillingham's massive waterfront project

Tyler Thompson

Dillingham residents met with engineers and consultants last week to discuss their draft plan for the Dillingham waterfront and gather comments for the future, multi-million dollar project. 

It was a packed house at the Dillingham city hall on a chilly Monday evening, as residents voiced their ideas for Dillingham’s waterfront property at the harbor. Susan Bell works with the McDowell Group, an Anchorage-based consulting firm the city hired to help with the process. 

“As we began this project, we were focused on the downtown area of the waterfront -- certainly this community has waterfront access," Bell said. "We were looking at how we can identify waterfront related opportunities and constraints, that really will impact community and economic development in Dillingham and the region.”

The McDowell Group, along with PND Engineers, put together the 20-

Credit McDowell Group/PND Engineers

page overview including harbor activity from 2009 to 2019.

On Monday, they presented data the companies had gathered during their first visit to Dillingham in July. The report also includes financial figures about the seafood and visitor industries.

The plan outlines four major goals, which include making the waterfront more accessible to the community and making the boat harbor and docks easier to use. It also aims to maximize safe and efficient usage of the boat harbor and uplands and facilitate waterfront collaboration. Each goal is broken down into short, midterm and long-term strategies over a 20 year period.

Credit Tyler Thompson

As the floor opened to public comment, residents voiced their desires for future developments and raised concerns about the overall draft. A hot topic was the roughly 600-foot section of the Bingman property at the front of the harbor.

Some wanted to use that space for a park. Gregg Marxmiller, a member of the Dillingham city council, suggested they turn the land into a welcome space.

“I’d really like to see us do something to really put ourselves on the map at the beginning of that property," Marxmiller said. "Really utilize that to enhance the pride and interest in our town. Whether it’s art or whatever it is. I’d hate to see that become leased to someone that may just put storage on their or gear.”

Gabe Dunham, with the Alaska Sea Grant, said he would like to see some of the harbor space used for educational purposes.

“It aligns with a number of efforts -- K-12 and also University related --, that are trying to train the younger generation of commercial fishers in the region," Dunham said. "I think it’s a good spot for it.”


Credit McDowell Group/PND Engineers

A major concern about the draft was the lack of input from commercial fishermen.

Robert Heyano serves on the Port of Dillingham Advisory Ccouncil and fishes in the summer. He believes the plan would look different with more comments from the fishing community.

“It’s a total chaotic mess as the fishing season gets going." Heyano said. "Not only do you have a huge amount of small boats -- 32-footers – you have bigger boats tied up there taking a large area of bulkhead and actually in my opinion damaging the bulkhead.”

Bell, with the McDowell Group, echoes those concerns. She said much of the feedback they received from fishermen during this summer’s fishing season was indirect. But there’s still time for fishermen to comment, and attendees said they would help share the draft with them.

People were also concerned about dredging efforts at the harbor, and any future plans to combat erosion. Parking spaces and revenue generators were also a point of discourse.

Credit McDowell Group/PND Engineers

  The city and McDowell group are targeting a 60- day window to finalize the plan. The estimated cost of the project will be around $50 million over 20 years. The report lists 16 potential sources for state and federal funding. 

The Dillingham boat harbor serves most villages in the region, and more than 500 vessels this summer. It provides moorage for 400 vessels up to 32 feet in length, and space for transient vessels up to 80 feet in length. Find the Dillingham Watrefront Strategic Plan here.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200