Juneau's marine service industry facilities are lacking

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Juneau is at the bottom of the totem pole in Southeastern Alaska in the effort it makes to support the marine service industry.

"Juneau has the best technicians but the poorest facilities," Jim Geraghty of Maritime Hydraulics told me.

All the major towns of Southeast, including Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Craig, have the capability of pulling an 80- to 100-foot vessel out of the water so it can be worked on, but Juneau only has a small travel lift owned by the University of Alaska, which is kept busy every day pulling up vessels of 20 to 40 feet in length.

The core of any successful marine service industry, Geraghty says, is the ability to take a boat out of the water for painting and shaft and propeller work and, in the case of a wooden vessel, to replace rotten or damaged planks.

The men here are first class and provide as skilled a workforce as anywhere in Alaska, including Bill Shattenberg of Anchor Electric. For diesel work you can call on Northern Commercial or Mike Grieser at New Life Motors. For welding, T&S Welding and Acme Welding are available, as is Jack Ross at Vulcan Welding or Paul Simpson at Simpco. Joe Edwards at C&M Mechanical and Mike Bell at Freeman Bell do machine shop work. Jim Geraghty owns Maritime Hydraulics.

It isn't that Juneau is totally asleep at the switch. Geraghty can watch from the window of his office by the dock near the University of Alaska plant as lines of seine boats wait to load food and supplies from Costco. But he says that Juneau hasn't built a new stall for a limit seiner in 30 years. By our failure to improve our facilities for the fishing fleet, particularly an adequate lift that can move vessels of 80 to 100 feet, "we are ignoring tens of millions of dollars of good, sound marine-related jobs in favor of promoting T-shirt shops on South Franklin Street."

A lot of this work is not just going to other ports in Southeastern Alaska, Geraghty says, but to Canada and the Lower 48.

Is it time for Juneau to support the men and women in the marine service business? Not just to think of how to moor a one-hundred-thousand ton behemoth sitting in the middle of Gastineau Channel, but to figure how to dock and work on 40 to l00-foot seiners, halibut boats, fish packers and Alaska Fish and Game protection vessels. Why not now?

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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