ANCHORAGE - A bill that passed Tuesday in the U.S. House will allow the city of Craig to acquire the site of the former Wards Cove Packing Co.'s fish processing plant in Southeast Alaska.
City administrator Jon Bolling said the land deal is important for Craig, which is trying to diversify its economy, as well as the economy of Prince of Wales Island and its 4,500 residents who rely mostly on commercial fishing and logging.
"This parcel is located right downtown," Bolling said. "Being located downtown, the property is a great candidate for redevelopment."
The site has not been used to pack fish for more than 20 years because the cannery burned down. Wards Cove used the property more recently to provide maintenance on vessels.
Craig hopes to use the 10-acre site, which has a couple of existing docks, to increase downtown harbor space and boat slips. Plans also call for developing an industrial park, similar to one the city opened a few years ago about a mile away from the cannery site.
"It has been very successful," Bolling said. The industrial park has a variety of businesses, including a fueling facility for boats, a mechanics shop for a logging company and a stone sculpting and landscape materials business.
Bolling said the timber industry has been flat in recent years after a sharp downturn. The town is seeing an increase in charter vessels during the summer and hopes to attract more independent tourists. Its harbor is not suitable for large cruise ships.
The land deal bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, had already passed in the Senate. It needs only to be signed by President Bush. Murkowski expects the bill to be signed next month.
The deal involves the U.S. Forest Service buying nearly 350 acres of recreation land from Craig, which then would use the money to buy the cannery property. The recreation land includes a trail leading to Mount Sunnahae, the trailhead and mountain top.
Craig got title to the recreational area in 1992 and worked hard to re-establish it as a useable trail, Bolling said. Improvements included installing boardwalks and stairs to make the two-mile trail, which goes up 2,500 feet, more accessible. The trail was completed a couple of years ago.
"It is a popular spot," Bolling said. "The trailhead is right in town. It is right on the local bike path so you can bike or drive to it. It is a beautiful view."
Bolling said the Forest Service will keep the trail open to the public and maintain the area for recreational use.