Baranof Warm Springs is a small community due east of Sitka, on the eastern shore of Baranof Island. All told, it’s about 50 lots, mostly summer homes and one full-time resident. It’s a popular recreation spot for Sitkans and for small-ship cruise passengers traveling the Inside Passage. It's also a popular anchorage for fishing boats awaiting openings.
The hatchery would consist of a multi-story building along Warm Springs Bay, as well as net-pens in the water nearby. At maximum capacity it would handle about 3 million Chinook and Coho eggs.
But property owners, like Ron Handerson, say the project would permanently mar the community.
“You’re going to take this pristine area of Southeast Alaska and destroy it,” Handerson said. “There’s lots of bays over on that east side of Baranof Island. I don’t know why you would want to take this particular place and upset it.”
Handerson is also a pilot, and he says he worries about how the project would impact the safety of air traffic in and out of the area.
“It is really hard to get onto that dock,” he said. “Now you’re saying you’re going to put a bunch more obstacles in that bay in there. You get some pretty squirrely winds at times. We’ve got more stuff to dodge, we’ve got more boats that we’re going to be dodging around. I see lots of problems with it. There’s going to be an accident there.”
Kathy Lieser also opposed the project, saying she hopes officials consider whether something should be built there, in addition to whether something could be built there. She says if the goal is to add more salmon to the stock, expanding the nearby Hidden Falls Hatchery would be a better option.
“If they had to do it, then I think it would make more sense to go with an existing infrastructure, instead of going and adding something that’s going to be a multi-story facility into a place where a lot of people have property. It will have impacts on the value of their property,” she said.
One of those properties is the Baranof Wilderness Lodge, whose owner, Mike Trotter, says he wouldn’t be able to do business if the hatchery was built. His business, he says, thrives on giving people a wilderness experience. He says the hatchery would add industry and seriously change the atmosphere in Baranof Warm Springs.
Dale Young, who is seeking to build the hatchery, responded to some of the concerns.
“I probably value the pristine aesthetics of Baranof as much as anybody who’s testified here,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to make it non-industrial in appearance. I’ve gone to great lengths to try to figure out ways to develop this so you wouldn’t even know there’s a hatchery there. Obviously there will be one there if it’s permitted, but it will be designed in such a way so it will fit in with the community.”
Young didn’t want to give an on-tape interview, but he did say he’s spent $3 million of his own money on the project so far. He says it could help the economy both in Warm Springs and beyond, with four full-time jobs at the site, plus construction jobs to build the infrastructure. He also said salmon produced at the hatchery would have value for fishermen.
Young originally applied to build a three-phase project that would carry 60 million eggs by the end of Phase 3. Fish & Game says it would only be willing to permit Phase 1. According to Young’s application packet, the investment for Phase 1 is about $5.5 million.
About 10 people testified on Tuesday night and all of them expressed concerns about the project. With public testimony in hand, Fish & Game will also consider how the proposal lines up with the Alaska Coastal Management Plan in determining whether to issue the permit.
Officials from the department couldn’t give a timeline for the project, because it also depends on other permissions, such as zoning changes from the City and Borough of Sitka. City Planning Director Wells Williams says the property is zoned for recreational use, and that a hatchery is prohibited in that zoning area. Young would need to apply for a zoning change and a conditional use permit in order to build his project.
Williams says Young has the application in hand, and once it’s returned, Baranof Warm Springs property owners will get 30 days to review the application before it goes to the Planning Commission and then on to the Sitka Assembly.
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