At Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Garry White, Executive Director of the Sitka Economic Development Association (SEDA), discussed plans to make Sawmill Cove Industrial Park more accessible to larger vessels. A step that could bring much needed outside dollars to Sitka.

Mentioning a projected loss in cruise ship passenger volume – 69% since 2008, White cautioned that Sitka needs to focus on developing prime industries – those outside of Sitka that bring in money – as well as supporting local business.

“What Sitka’s problem is right now, is we’ve lost a lot of our prime industry and we’re not growing compared to our spending, and the bucket is getting empty,” White said.

Among the projects under SEDA’s management, White said the Sawmill Cove Industrial Park remains a huge asset. He said it’s the largest commercial industrial property available for development in Sitka and supports 53 full time, and 380 summer employees.

White said that the park is nearly full, housing a variety of businesses: a net and storage facility, a tannery, the Fortress of the Bear, a fish hatchery, and Silver Bay Seafoods. With the largest amount of real-estate in the park, Silver Bay Seafood is a major tax payer in Sitka.

True Alaska Water suspended its bottling operations at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park in 2008, but has since placed full emphasis on the sale of bulk water. White sees this as a promising outlet for future economic development in Sitka. He mentioned Chinese buyers were interested in purchasing True Alaska Water in bulk, but the transportation costs were too high to reasonably export the water.

White said, “some of the actions we’re working on right now, as part of our overall conceptual planning study we’re looking at how we can put infrastructure in the water that will accept a large tanker ship to come in. We’re not going to build it but we’re going to have it designed and ready to go in the event that it does happen and then we can work on finding the capital to do so in conjunction with our investors.”

SEDA’s next big project is to develop the infrastructure to accommodate larger vessels. Using Federal Highway Administration funding, the board plans to conduct a feasibility study – specifically, how Sitka could accommodate a larger vessel moorage facility.

White said, “a lot of these boats that show up for the herring fishery and the salmon fishery and these larger tender boats. They’re kind of wondering why they live on Puget sound and drive up here to work. Could they stay here and could they get their work done here. If we put larger boats here can they be serviced here and can we service the part of the fleet that cannot be serviced at our existing haul out. Our existing haul out, Halibut Point Marina, has a capacity of 88 tons. If you have a vessel larger than that you have to leave the community, which is money that leaves the community.”

The study began in August. Consultants from Northern Economics teamed up with engineers to weigh the economic benefits of building a new haul out. This is the same team that conducted a similar study in Wrangel and Cordova. White said, both cities now have successful haul outs.

The board hopes to present an initial draft to the public in January, and plans to make a final decision on what action to take in February.