Work is underway in the Pribilof Islands in Southwest Alaska this summer on repair of the south breakwater into the harbor at St. George, while in Anchorage the US Army Corps of Engineers is engaged in a study on further harbor upgrades.
The problem, says St. George Mayor Pat Pletnikof, is time is running out for upgrading the harbor to allow for year-round fish processing critical to the economic survival of the small Aleut community.
The summer project will repair breakwater damaged in a severe winter storm last December, and the three-year Corps of Engineers feasibility study on harbor upgrades still has over a year to go.
“But we don’t have three years,” said Pletnikof, who has watched too many residents leave for lack of jobs, as he fights to find enough money for diesel fuel to keep the city power plant going. “We have absolutely no economy at St. George and we keep pointing out that the federal government in 1983 said they would build us a harbor and that hasn’t happened.” To make the harbor viable for year-round seafood processing, additional breakwaters are needed for safe passage, he said.
What Pletnikof wants is for the federal government to deliver on its promise to help transform the Pribilofs from a fur seal to a more diversified fisheries economy.
Given a functional year-round harbor, St. George would be able to process Pacific cod, black cod and crab, some of the tons of seafood harvested annually from the waters that surround them, he said.
Every fisheries community that has a year-round processing plant is at the very least stable, and every community that does not is in a state of decline, and to move to year-round seafood processing you have to have a viable harbor, says Larry Cotter, chief executive officer of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association.
The responsibility, said Cotter, rests with the federal government, to complete its promise of transitioning St. George from fur seal hunting to a fisheries economy.
Pletnikof, Carter and Nathan McCowan, chief executive officer of the St. George Tanaq Corp., have been working with the Corps and Alaska’s congressional delegation in hope of speeding up the process of upgrading the harbor.
“This is a grievance that needs to be settled,” said Cotter.
Alaska’s congressional delegation has asked the Corps to expedite its economic analysis so that the long overdue St. George harbor project can be completed.