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Outgoing Owen recalls 2 decades mastering harbor

Posted: May 12, 2014 - 12:02am

KODIAK — On a walk along the main float in St. Paul Harbor on Thursday, Marty Owen recalled the broken, uneven, creosote-stained dock that he found there in 1995, the year he took over as harbormaster.

At that time the state-owned Kodiak’s downtown harbor. The in 1997, the state gave the harbor to the city with some money representing deferred maintenance.

“We took our deferred maintenance and built a whole new harbor,” Owen said.

In his last week on the job, Owen feels pride in the operation he leaves to his successor and the role the harbors play in Kodiak.

“The harbor is that key piece of infrastructure that makes our economy work here,” he said. “Everybody else spins around he money — the value added — by catching fish.”

Owen said he is grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the community and for the support he has received from the Kodiak City Council and the Port and Harbors Advisory Board.

“I’ve really like working with the fishermen,” he said.

Although he grew up in Tacoma, Wash., Owen has family ties in Kodiak dating to the 1940s. His grandfather opened a store here with Norm Sutliff, and Owen was familiar with the island long before he made the permanent move.

First he attended the University of Washington and then served as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers for 24 years.

“Mostly stateside work building roads and culverts,” he said.

He said his experience and connections with the Corps proved useful with Kodiak projects, like construction of the St. Herman Harbor breakwater.

On retirement from the Army, Owen was offered work in Kodiak and with the Port of Tacoma.

“And this is where I wanted to be,” he said.

Among the changes Owen has overseen at the harbor is the shipyard with its large boat lift. He said the city started serious work toward that goal in 2000, and can now offer fishing vessels of all size the possibility of carrying out service in Kodiak.

Major future harbor projects include replacement of the Pier 3 dock and cargo terminal and a new transient float in Near Island Channel. The Alaska Marine Highway System will also start building a new Kodiak ferry dock this summer.

While that work goes on, Owen and his wife Marion, a photographer, gardening columnist and former merchant mariner, will devote more time their two businesses. They run a year-round bed and breakfast at their home and offer dinner cruises onboard their motor yacht the Sea Breeze.

“We’re starting our 11th year,” Owen said.

The bulk of the dinner cruise patrons are local residents who take the harbor tour with visiting relatives, and Owen said it serves as a pleasant social outlet.

“We’ve done probably 50 weddings on board,” he said. The Owens also plan to visit national parks in the Lower 48 by motor home during the winters.

Owen said he is very happy that deputy harbormaster Lon White will advance to the top post, and that it will be a challenge to find someone as devoted to fill the deputy slot.

Owen is the first of three leading city employees stepping down this spring, along with finance director Mary Munk and parks and recreation director Charlie Powers.

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