Pelican struggles with power issues

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nearly a year after the water flume collapsed in the city of Pelican, the tiny Chichagof Island community is still struggling with the consequences, though temporary repairs have enabled adequate water supply for homes and businesses.

"We've got water restored to the community, but it is not enough to run our hydroelectric turbines," said Mayor Patricia Phillips.

The old wooden flume that carried city water also carried the water that produced electricity for Pelican, but the temporary water line doesn't provide enough water for that. Instead, the city spent the winter running its backup diesel generators.

A new permanent solution involved blasting a new bench through granite to construct a new penstock to move water to town, she said.

"Work at the reservoir took a lot more time than we'd anticipated," Phillips said. "It was quite a challenge, I'll say."

The water system hasn't been Pelican's only challenge. Pelican Seafoods, once the city's largest employer, remains closed and in legal limbo. Former owner Kake Tribal Corp. began foreclosure proceedings against current owner Ed Bahrt, but suspended them fearing taking on additional liability.

State officials helped remove ammonia from Pelican Seafoods refrigeration system to allow the freezers to be decommissioned.

Pelican Seafoods' future - if it has one - may hinge on whether Pelican has affordable hydroelectric power with which to operate it.

Phillips said she hopes the city with a population of 113 will be back on hydroelectric power by fall.

While Pelican has been on diesel it has qualified for the state's Power Cost Equalization program for homes and community buildings.

While Alaska has been trying to move communities from diesel to renewable energy, Pelican last year was forced to move from hydro, with its stable prices, to diesel and its volatile costs because of the flume collapse.

Phillips said the city's new plastic pipe that runs from the reservoir to town uses part of the flume framework. While repairs have been made, they're not a permanent solution.

"There are two or three other weak spots," she said. "If we filled the flume up all the way it might collapse. We don't want to take the chance, we saw what happened last year."

It was during heavy rains last August that the overtaxed flume collapsed.

Pelican Seafoods also maintained a grocery store, a Laundromat and an ice plant, all of which the city misses.

Phillips said the city did purchase a small ice plant, but would like to be able to use Pelican Seafoods' ice-making equipment for the fishing fleet.

"We'd sure like to get site control of the old ice machine," she said.

"We'd like to get the fleet back in here, we really miss that economic activity," Phillips said.

Kake Tribal also owns the Pelican fuel dock, which was not part of the lease to Ed Bahrt. It remains in operation, with assistance from the federal Denali Commission and the Alaska Energy Authority which expanded its bulk fuel plant and help out the city.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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