So the city went to court and won a foreclosure ruling that left the municipal government Pelican Seafoods’ owner.
Phillips says she hopes the city can win grants to get part of the 60-year-old plant going again.
“The ice machine there can be rebuilt and a refrigeration system could be hooked up to the ice machine and the ice bins to get that ice machine going again, to get the fleet in here,” she says.
She would like to see the facility’s laundromat reopened, which she says would also attract fishermen.
Pelican is 80 miles north of Sitka and 70 miles west of Juneau. It’s built on the shores of Lisianski Inlet, on the northwest coast of Chichagof Island.
In its heyday, the seafood plant was the town’s largest employer and processed up to 6 million pounds of fish a year. But changing economic trends meant it struggled through several owners. And the deteriorating plant was rarely open in recent times.
The situation reached crisis stage in 2009, when a hydropower system breakdown threatened to shut off power to the closed cold storage facility. Some feared the frozen, rotting wooden structure would collapse when thawed, releasing dangerous amounts of ammonia. Image by Glenn Bills/State of Alaska
But government officials stepped in and resolved the situation.
“The Pelican plant has been decommissioned to an extent so all the anhydrous ammonia has been pulled out of the piping system in the plant,” says Sarah Moore of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Spill Prevention and Response.
“It’s all being stored in the high and low pressure receiver system. As it stands now it is not an imminent threat to the community.”
The building remains in poor condition. And Mayor Phillips says power is too expensive to resume operations, even if repairs are made.
But the city’s applying for about $2 million in state and federal grants in hopes of increasing hydroelectric capacity.
Phillips says potential seafood plant buyers have shied away because of its financial entanglements. She hopes the city’s takeover, and the potential for reduced power costs, could bring them back.
“In my opinion, there’s hope for some sort of operation in there. Not the glory days of what we once were. We are so strategically located, close to Cross Sound. And we’re hopeful that someone will consider what we have here and take a closer look and put some sort of operation in here,” she says
The most recent owner, Ed Bahrt & Associates, has not been available for interviews. And the CEO of the previous owner, Kake Tribal Corporation, could not be reached for comment. The corporation has said it was not fully paid, and hoped to take action to retrieve some of the property’s value.
Phillips says the plant remains in bad shape.
“I had walked on the roof of the seafood facility and it was pretty soft in spots. And the wind and rain had blown up one corner of the roofing over one corner of the freezers,” she says.
The plant’s future under city ownership will likely be led by someone other than Phillips. She appears to have lost the mayor’s race to Clint Bean, though the final tally could change the results. Bean says he has a plan, but doesn’t want to discuss it until he knows whether he won the race.
Read about Pelican's history.
See photos of the town.
Hear a report on Pelican Seafoods reopening under Ed Bahrt, who has since closed the business.
Listen to the report: Rosie’s Bar and Grill nets statewide award
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