It’s a brisk, sunny early spring day in Seward. Scudding clouds barely break the relentless blue of the sky beyond the chilly, cobalt waters of Resurrection Bay. Inside the city administration building on Adams Street, assistant city manager Ron Long looks at a detail of a map of Seward’s harbors.
“Here’s the existing infrastructure here. So there’s one central portion of the basin that would need to be dredged to accommodate the largest of the vessels in the proposed fleet. “
Long says the new harbor is already built. It’s around the other side of the Bay from the city’s small boat harbor and cruise ship dock, but it needs a lot more work.
“That’s the harbor as it exists now. That’s our Seward Marine Industrial Center. As you can see, sort of an open basin. There’s a small breakwater down at the southern end of the harbor. So it’s somewhat exposed to weather, and that poses some operational challenges.”
The idea to use it for the CDQ fleet came up a couple of years ago, when Western Alaska’s Coastal Villages Region Fund, approached the city. CVRF is the largest of the CDQ groups, and it brings in an estimated 175 million pounds of groundfish and crab annually. Currently, the group’s fleet docks in Seattle.
“And they’ve managed to leverage those initial shares into majority or outright ownership interest in twenty large vessels — crabbers, catcher processors trawlers, and over a quarter billion dollars in assets that they would like to bring home to Alaska.”
But the new harbor needs a jetty, to protect the large vessels from wave action. Long says when the CDQ group looked at Seward
“We had almost all of the things that they needed, except sufficient moorage capacity in all weathers at all times. And so that’s what started the conversation about finding a way to complete that basin that’s over on the East side of the Bay. “
Seward’s year round ice free port, and rail access to points North, also make the project attractive. CVRF’s seafood general manager Nick Souza says the group initially was not sure Seward was the right place.
“Not quite big enough and not quite what we were thinking. And then, they reworked it a few times, and came back with something that would work. It was pretty big. It would fit all our fleet in there, the factory trawler as well as the cod boats and the crab boats. “
Souza says having the fleet close to corporate offices in Anchorage is another plus — it eliminates the three and a half hour flight to Seattle.
He says it won’t be cheaper to keep the boats in Seward, but that’s not a drawback. He emphasizes more development has to be done regarding support services the fleet needs, and that could take time
“Two years, ten years. The whole infrastructure needs to be built up. Not just, boom, the harbors here. You know, fuel vendors they need to be able to fill up our ship. The factory trawler actually probably takes up as much fuel as the whole city of Seward does. So things like that need to be addressed.”
The CDQ group already has five large vessels with long term moorage contracts at the city’s existing harbor. Seward is working slowly but doggedly toward getting the new harbor finished. The city received a 400 thousand dollar appropriation from the state in 2010 to do a feasibility study and concept design. An additional 10 million dollars from last year’s transportation bond was invested in the project as well.
Long says there is a need to find other users that would balance out the seasonal nature of the fishing fleet. The plan is to lease city owned adjacent uplands to private developers and entrepreneurs, and to attract more vessels to the new harbor.
“We’ve had some recent activity over the last year or so with some of the oil and gas exploration and support fleet that’s being deployed to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. And we expect that to continue as more companies are interested and more lease acres are opened up. We’ve also had renewed interest from existing customers, from tug and barge companies. “
Permitting for water work, a rock quarry source for stone, and federal and state permits and fees have eaten up four million dollars of last year’s transportation money. The remainder will be used to build the breakwater, he says.
The city is now waiting to see if the ten million dollars in this year’s capitol budget survives the Governor’s veto. That money will allow Seward to begin constructing the breakwater this fall.
With cruise ship landings down, Seward is looking to boost city revenues. In time, an uptick in marine support and fish processing could fill the gap. But CVRF communications coordinator Dawson Hoover says, the project is bound to benefit the whole state by creating jobs and by helping to “Alaskanize” the Bering Sea fisheries