Alaska Glacier Seafoods' new processing plant at Auke Nu Cove is swarming with activity in preparation for its first delivery by fishermen in mid-February.
On Thursday, the 10,500-square-foot building on Glacier Highway was filled with more than a dozen carpenters, electricians and installers of Sheetrock and refrigeration units - all working at a swift pace to get the building ready for the upcoming tanner crab season.
Trying to stay clear of the construction crews was Mike Erickson, a Petersburg native who owns Alaska Glacier Seafoods, a small but fast-growing Juneau business, with his son, Jim Erickson.
Looking out at the buzz from the second floor of the plant, Erickson described his company's larger Auke Nu Cove plant as "a direct result of our expanding markets" for seafood products including fresh and frozen fish fillets, salmon roe and crab. The company supplies markets throughout the United States, Japan and Europe.
Until recently, the company's operations were split between a seafood plant at Lemon Creek, a company office at Jordan Creek and the dock at Harris Harbor.
The seafood plant behind Lemon Creek's Western Auto shop, vacated two weeks ago, was about three times smaller than the new plant, in which Erickson has invested millions. He declined to specify a dollar figure.
"We were maxed out," Erickson said. He plans to add five or six year-round office positions and an extra 15 to 20 seafood processing jobs during the peak June-August fishing season. That translates to approximately 50 to 65 total jobs during the peak season, he said.
Because of the company's increase in production and refrigerator space, and also due to the cove's strategic harbor access for fishermen, Erickson anticipates a jump in seafood production. The Lemon Creek plant produced about 18,000 pounds of product per day. Erickson estimates the new plant will produce 50,000 to 60,000 pounds per day.
Juneau fisherman Steve Box, one of about 100 fishermen who sell their catch to Alaska Glacier Seafood, said the Auke Nu location is "centrally located" between the region's two busiest salmon gillnet fishing areas, Taku Inlet/Stephens Passage and Benjamin Island/north Lynn Canal.
"It's easier for turnaround trips for longliners, as well, instead of having to go all the way around Douglas Island," Box said.
"We are very supportive of what Mike is doing," said Jim Becker, the Juneau chapter president of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association. "He's a good guy and he's going to contribute to the overall economy of the community," Becker said.
But not all are supportive of the new plant. Some of the neighbors are wary and tried to put a stop to the project with an appeal during its city permitting phase. The project received its final approval for construction in early 2004.
"We're still really upset," said Marcia Donnelly, of the nearby Auke Nu Condominium Association, also located in the cove's tidelands.
Some of the condominium association's concerns include possible debris washing into the tidelands and lights at the plant shining into people's homes, Donnelly said.
In order to address some concerns about pollution discharge and disturbance to the cove's sensitive eel grass beds - a food source for bald eagles and other birds - the company agreed to haul its discarded, ground-up fish parts to deeper waters near Auke Bay and build a longer boat dock.
The company's discharge area for fish parts is still under review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Erickson said. "We intend on going at least 150 feet deep, adjacent to Auke Bay somewhere ... beyond the islands, in a good tidal zone," he said.
"We're going to do whatever we need to reduce light and noise," Erickson added.
The company began its expansion plan in 1999. "What do you know. Here we are, moving forward," Erickson said.
The new plant will likely have its first day on Feb. 16, the day after the tanner crab season opens, he said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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