The City of Pelican now owns the troubled Pelican Seafoods plant, after foreclosing on owner Ed Bahrt & Associates last month and jumping in line ahead of previous owner Kake Tribal Corp.
The city began foreclosure proceedings last May, said Mayor Patricia Phillips, following years of inaction at the plant and failure to pay property taxes.
The plant was owned then by fishing entrepreneur Ed Bahrt of Sitka, who also owned the failed Wrangell Seafoods.
Kake Tribal Corp. previously owned the plant, then sold it to Bahrt in 2006, after failing to make a go of running it themselves.
"He only made a couple of payments, and that was a long time ago," said Steve Malin, CEO of Kake Tribal.
In the brief period that Bahrt operated the plant, he bought fish from area fishermen but failed to make payments. At least three Juneau fisherman have sued him.
Even after Bahrt gave up trying to run Pelican Seafoods and abandoned the facility, Kake Tribal declined to foreclose, Malin said.
"There were some big liabilities there," he said, chief of which was the freezer plant's ammonia.
Phillips said the dangerous ammonia has since been removed from the freezers and safely stored in a decommissioning process led by state and federal experts.
She said some of the financial liabilities that would have faced a private owner don't apply to the city.
"By state law, we are not responsible for the liabilities related to environmental issues," she said.
The city is now trying to figure out what to do with the plant and how to it might be able to revitalize Pelican.
First off is seeing if they can get the Pelican Seafoods ice plant operational so fishermen in the Cross Sound area can get ice there instead of having to ship it from Excursion Inlet, Hoonah or Sitka.
"The fleet and the industry really missed this ice machine, and we missed the fleet and the industry coming into town," she said.
Also on the agenda is getting laundry facilities going, also desired by fishermen.
While Pelican is planning for the future, Malin said Kake Tribal has concerns about the foreclosure process. Some of what was seized, such as several adjoining homesites, still has value, he said.
He said the Juneau-headquartered village corporation is continuing to explore its legal options.
Phillips said the foreclosure process was carried out according to the law, and that if Kake Tribal wanted a different outcome it should have foreclosed itself.
"It was sitting there empty, it was abandoned property," she said. "If they'd foreclosed, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.