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Fishermen's Memorial Blessing of the Fleet at risk

Posted: June 11, 2012 - 12:00am

Representatives of the Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial Board met with Borough officials several times in recent years about the construction of massive cruise ship docks along the waterfront precluding fishing vessels from participating in the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony, which has been conducted directly in front of the Memorial for the last 20 years.

By the time the Board learned that the two docks had been approved, it was too late to have any input on the proposal. We had been repeatedly assured that the Borough would not do anything that might affect the Memorial or annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.

There is one small remaining waterfront site that has not been allocated: the Marine Park vicinity. It would meet the requirement for fishery vessels to approach the Memorial for the annual Blessing ceremony and spectator access.

The City Engineering Department determined that moving the Memorial to that location would be technically feasible and could be included in the waterfront development plan.

Accordingly, the Memorial Board asked the Borough Assembly to formally approve this action. At an Aug. 29, 2011 meeting of an Assembly committee, where information on the impacts and need for the Assembly’s approval of the move, the Board was dismayed by Mayor Bruce Botelho’s motion to leave the Memorial where it is and his statement that the Borough had more important things on which to spend its money. The mayor prefaced his motion by saying that he was tired of hearing about the Memorial.

Assembly Members Ruth Danner, Merrill Sanford, and Peter Freer voted against the mayor’s motion and urged that the issue remain open for further consideration. They were outvoted by the other Assembly members, and the mayor’s motion passed.

The issue of moving the Memorial is not dead. The community should support moving the Memorial to the Marine Park vicinity. The cost of moving the Memorial would clearly be eligible for funds from the City’s $30 million head tax account, which the Borough receives every year for cruise ship related expenses.

The Marine Park location would be a positive reminder of the importance of commercial fishing in Juneau’s history and its multi-million dollar contribution to Juneau’s economy. The names of more that 185 local fishermen who have died (35 of them lost at sea) are seen by thousands of our visitors. Their memories of Juneau are likely to include the Memorial long after the South Franklin souvenir shops have faded.

If you haven’t visited the Memorial, please do. You would be impressed by Juneau’s commercial fishing heritage which has contributed so much to Juneau’s history and economy. The Memorial is located on the waterfront on South Franklin at the Twisted Fish restaurant.

Let the Assembly know that Juneau’s residents deserve approval of moving the Memorial to the Marine Park area.

• Merrell, a 60-year resident of Juneau, is a retired fishery biologist from NOAA, Auke Bay and a former hand-troll permit holder. His grandson and son are local commercial fishermen.

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