DIPAC looks to replace cracked tank

Hatchery mounts campaign to replace damaged aquarium

Posted: Friday, May 07, 2004

The fish, crabs and other sea animals that inhabit the DIPAC aquarium have promoted knowledge of marine life in Southeast Alaska since 1989.

This summer, the critters have another message, this time in the form of signs written on the aquarium's outer wall.

"Help ... I need a new home," one sign reads.

Another, posted on an adjacent acrylic panel, says, "What are you looking at? You'd be sad too if you were about to lose your home."

The signs are part of a fund-raising campaign that DIPAC, the nonprofit salmon hatchery located on Channel Drive, has launched to replace the 5,000-gallon tank in its visitor center.

The aquarium consists of five 800-pound acrylic panels embedded in a concrete base. The concrete has cracked in recent years, and DIPAC officials are unsure how much longer it will last.

"It could go this summer, it could go two years from now," said Eric Prestegard, executive director of the hatchery. "The engineers don't feel comfortable at all. And if there's any seismic event of any nature it could really cause some problems."

Replacing the hatchery, which holds seven kinds of crab, as well as rockfish, trout, sea stars and at least one king salmon in the summer, will cost $100,000, Prestegard said.

The hatchery will purchase an acrylic cylinder from a company in Colorado to replace the panels. To install the new concrete base and the cylinder, construction workers will have to remove a portion of DIPAC's roof.

But the hatchery can't pay for the aquarium without some extra fund-raising, Prestegard said.

"The salmon industry as a whole is not in the best shape," he said. "We're a part of the salmon industry, and we're suffering like everybody else."

DIPAC tourism and education manager Rob Parsons has organized several community events to cover the cost of replacing the hatchery this fall.

On Saturday, May 15, the hatchery will hold a free "family fun day" to raise awareness of the aquarium's woes.

Staff at the hatchery will sell engraved tiles to go on the new aquarium or on the floor of the visitor center, for between $50 and $1,000, depending on the location and size of the tiles.

Parsons also asked cruise ship companies to chip in.

"We asked for a slight increase per passenger from all the cruise lines, and they all agreed to it," Parsons said. "So basically right off the bat we're a quarter of the way there."

About 100,000 cruise ship passengers visit the hatchery per season.

An additional 10,000 to 15,000 locals and students visit the aquarium, Prestegard said.

"There's no question that people totally appreciate the aquarium," he said.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at christine.schmid@juneauempire.com.

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