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Historic Keku Cannery to be stabilized

Kake landmark at risk of collapse

Posted: December 23, 2013 - 12:07am

Here’s some good news for the residents of Kake who have for years feared the demise of the historic Keku Cannery: funding to stabilize the crumbling landmark has been approved

Gary Williams, executive director for the Organized Village of Kake, said the tribe has been authorized to use its Bureau of Indian Affairs transportation funding to stabilize the building, which is located on BIA trust land. Once it’s stabilized, the tribe intends to move its transportation office into the cannery.

“The stabilization that we’re talking about we’d have liked to have started yesterday,” Williams said. “Hopefully it will start ASAP because a nasty winter storm could be bad.”

There’s a lot more work beyond getting the structure stabilized, Williams said. Still, just getting the old cannery — which is filled with asbestos, rusted machinery and historical artifacts — steady enough so that it doesn’t fall into Portage Bay is a big win for the Southeast Alaska village he said.

One of the main cannery buildings collapsed in 2007 because of a heavy snow load and another went down in 2011 because of high winds. If the processing building were to collapse, Williams said he’s not sure the village has the ability to deal with the hazardous materials. He fears the asbestos could impact subsistence fishing and get into the clam beds. The debris could also close one of the village’s main roads, he said.

“We always get a little bit worried when the weather gets too rough,” Williams said. “Every time it gets stormy you wonder how bad it will get.”

Williams said tribal council members have been working with R&M Engineering, American Marine, the National Park Service, the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, the BIA and Sally Smith in Sen. Mark Begich’s Juneau office to come up with stabilization plans.

“We have to make sure we’re going in the right direction for historic preservation and taking the best, practical way to address it,” Williams said.

The Keku Cannery closed more than 30 years ago after being the driving economic force in Kake since the early 20th century. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. This year it was named one of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Men came from around the world to work at the cannery, which played a big role in developing the Alaska salmon canning industry.

Williams hopes to one day make the cannery a tourist destination. There’s a relatively new dock in front of the cannery that would allow tour operators to bring in visitors. Williams envisions a marketplace during summer months, with local vendors in a large warehouse behind the cannery. There’s a lot of ideas he and others involved would like to see become reality for the cannery, but they’ve yet to be funded. The priority for now, he said, is to keep the structure standing.

“My intention is to make that cannery the showcase of Kake again,” Williams said. “Back in the day, the whole town pretty much revolved around it.”

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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