The Juneau Assembly voted unanimously Monday to uphold a Planning Commission decision to allow Alaska Glacier Seafoods to build and operate a fish-processing plant in Auke Bay.
While the plant is expected to create seasonal and full-time jobs, residents of the beachfront community were not pleased by the decision rejecting their appeal.
"This is the second kangaroo court I've been to in Juneau," said Judith Tickell, who owns 5 acres of land next to the proposed plant site. "They (the Assembly) already had their minds made up. They never took what we said into consideration. We won't stop though. We're going to take this all the way. We'll take it to court if we have to in order to stop it."
The 80-by-100-foot plant is slated for a plot of tidelands owned by father and son applicants Mike and Jim Erickson. The land is just west of the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on the banks of Auke Nu Cove. The seafood company has been in Juneau for seven years and operating from the Allen Marine dock, east of the ferry terminal, since 2000.
Jim Erickson said he expects the completed project to provide 20 to 25 seasonal jobs as well as two to three new year-round jobs. He also said the project will continue to help bolster the local economy through the raw fish tax, 50 percent of which goes to the city.
In all, 34 residents, led by Marcia Donnelley, were listed in the appeal filed Oct. 10 - the same day the Planning Commission voted to approve the project.
At the hearing, attorney Robert Spitzfaden spoke for the residents and accused the commission of making a bad decision because the plant violates Juneau's Coastal Management Plan. He said construction will destroy a species of eel grass indigenous to the area and eaten by eagles and other birds. He also said it will degrade area wetlands and wildlife. He argued that a conflict of interest existed between Commissioner Dan Bruce, who voted in favor of the project, because Bruce's law firm represented Glacier Seafoods in an unrelated matter several years ago.
According to city records, Bruce brought this up before a vote was taken and no one objected to his voting. The Assembly on Monday did not find there was a conflict or a problem with the vote.
Following the decision, Assembly member Dale Anderson said the panel was impressed by city staff's findings and that the major state environmental agencies approved of the project. He said the Assembly had some concerns about environmental degradation, but thinks impacts to the environment will be minimal.
"Anytime there are wetlands being covered, there is going to be some effect on the ecosystem," said Anderson. "We think the steps the applicants will take to dispose of waste from the building and the conditions in place from the Planning Commission will mitigate the damage.
"Also, as part of our decision, we've asked the Planning Commission to take another look at the site and make sure there aren't any more zoning requirements for the area. We've also asked city staff to remove the abandoned boats in the area to sort of clean it up for residents."
Plant developer Erickson said he is committed to mitigating the effects of the plant on the area by following the conditions put in place by the commission. They include putting in an oil/water separator for parking lot water run-off, disturbing the tidelands as little as practical, and stopping construction between March 15 and June 15, when young fish are in the water.
Glacier Seafoods also promised to ship fish waste from the site and dump it in deep water to limit the plant's odor.