Should Sitka sell off its remaining land at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, or keep the land in public hands?
That’s the question currently bedeviling the GPIP board. On Thursday night, board members brought the issue to the Sitka Assembly for guidance.
The city has two offers for the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. (You can find them here and here.)
Pat Glaab, of Alaska & Pacific Packing, has proposed leasing about an acre and a half of waterfront property, including an empty building, to house his business designing and manufacturing equipment for the seafood industry.
“I would design and build freezers, I would build the equipment that actually helps to butcher the fish,” Glaab told KCAW. “The conveyors that move the fish along, the holding tanks that hold them, the transportation to get them into a van, the packaging machines that package them: all that stuff needs to be built and needs to be specific to what the seafood industry needs.”
Glaab has been designing fish processing equipment for decades — he designed much of Silver Bay Seafood’s Sitka processing plant.
Silver Bay Seafoods, meanwhile, wants to buy nearly all the remaining land at the park, including the waterfront plot that Glaab is seeking.
The company proposes building a seafood byproducts and salmon oil plant, cold storage — and, perhaps most tantalizing for the city, a marine services center.
“My goal is to create a marine services center that becomes a destination for boat repair throughout Alaska,” said Silver Bay President, Troy Denkinger. “Silver Bay’s role in this would be to put the infrastructure in, to create the actual infrastructure that brings the boats here, and then to promote the growth of the businesses — not us owning the businesses, but promoting the growth of local businesses, or businesses that might come to town to provide these services.”
Under the vision sketched out by Denkinger and CEO Rich Riggs, Silver Bay would serve as a sort of umbrella and facilitator, bringing in everyone from welders to painters to engineers to work on boats.
The boat yard would be operated in partnership with Halibut Point Marine Services, and would include a large boat haul-out.
To that end, Silver Bay has proposed that the city modify its plans for a dock at the GPIP. The city has received $7.5 million dollars in state money to build a public multipurpose dock, but planning has been put on hold while the city considers the two new proposals.
Silver Bay wants the city to revise its plan, to include marine haul out piers. Silver Bay would then buy a 250-ton marine travel lift to operate at the site.
Nearly everyone at Thursday night’s meeting supported the idea of a marine services center. It’s been one of the city’s longtime dreams for the park.
“The thought of this facility, marine service center, being brought in here, is of course to me, a windfall,” said Sitka resident Kelly Warren, who owns two tenders. “I had three boats previously. I’ve sold one, in large part due to the fact that we just can’t maintain them up here. They can’t be hauled in Sitka.”
But members of the public, the GPIP board and the Assembly all expressed worries about handing over so much of the park to one private owner.
The board has already voted to recommend selling Silver Bay several of the lots it asked for; what remains is the waterfront area, including the area where the two proposals overlap.
Glaab, of Alaska & Pacific Packing, said he’s troubled by the prospect of the proposed boat yard in private hands.
“If an individual owns it, doesn’t matter who that individual is, if they decide next week they want to raise chickens out here, am I out of luck?” he said. “Is everybody sitting here saying, ‘We want a boat yard,’ but we don’t own it? One individual owns it. And I think that’s problematic from the service industry’s point of view, and from mine.”
GPIP board member Dan Jones suggested the city not sell the waterfront land, but rather negotiate long-term leases.
“I would really like to see both of these proposals work in the park,’ Jones said. “But I want to make sure that a hundred years from now, the park still works for the public.”
Assembly Member Matt Hunter spelled out the city’s dilemma.
“We don’t have the money to construct the facilities that our fishing fleet needs,” Hunter said. “We have a private business that’s coming forward saying they’re willing to do it. We have another private business coming forward saying that they’re willing to do it. And I just want to make sure that whatever we end up doing, we get the value for the community…We also need to guarantee that public access, and make as much room as possible for the diversity of business. So, I’m looking to the board for some recommendation here.”
The GPIP board will try to hammer out those recommendations at its next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.