Local News

Despite safety concerns, Sawmill board pursues quarry plan


The proposed quarry site, as seen from the parking area at Silver Bay Seafoods. (Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW)

Sawmill Cove Industrial Park will continue to market the availability of a quarry on its property, despite significant concerns over the safety of blasting rock so close to neighboring seafood workers.

At its regular meeting on Monday (12-12-11), the Sawmill Cove board decided to hold off on pursuing a conditional use permit for the quarry site, which is adjacent to the highway, and directly across from Silver Bay Seafoods. Nevertheless, the board decided to preserve the possibility of opening the quarry, in the event a major customer expressed interest in the rock.

The board’s actions came over the objections of Sitka’s Public Works Director Michael Harmon. Harmon had reservations about the safety of blasting in close proximity to people, whether on the highway, or in the park. He thought much of the work might have to be done at night, in the off-season, when the Silver Bay Seafoods plant and bunkhouse were unoccupied.

Harmon said, “You never know where the shockwaves from blasting will go.” He cited recent road building work on Harbor Mt. Road, which triggered a major landslide.

Former municipal administrator Hugh Bevan, now a civil engineer with S&S Construction – which operates a quarry near the ferry terminal – said, “If one fist-sized rock hits someone, it’s all over.”

Maria Finkenbinder, an employee of Silver Bay, told the board that she found the idea of a quarry directly uphill from the seafood plant to be very frightening. She said that, at capacity, the plant had 300-400 employees on site.

Board member Charles Horan had a different view. He said that he had “long championed” developing the quarry because he considered the existing slope to be unsafe. He hoped the quarry could move forward, even if work took place at night.

Board member Dan Jones observed that the S&S quarry began on the highway, in a populated area, and has gradually expanded to its present depth.

The board instructed park director Garry White to keep the possibility of a quarry visible in Sawmill Cove marketing materials – but not to pursue a conditional use permit at present. They encouraged him to explore a possible partnership with the University of Alaska, which owns neighboring property, about the possibility of a partnership that might allow a future quarry to be developed more safely.

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