Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:57 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Coast Guard expands its presence in community

Marine Safety Detachment now moving from Kenai to Main Street Mercantile

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Since Main Street Mercantile and Sweet Berries closed their doors several months ago, the main floor of the wooden building at the corner of Main Street and Pioneer Avenue has sat empty. It is empty no longer.

This week U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment personnel began moving their office and equipment from Kenai to newly created office space in the historic building.

"The opportunity presented itself and we really wanted to jump on it because for most of our business, we find ourselves in Homer a lot," said Lt. Sarah Geoffrion, the MSD supervisor. "It's better for us. We won't have to drive four hours a day. And it's better for the community because we'll be more available to them."

The Marine Safety Detachment, whose mission incorporates pollution response, environmental protection, vessel and facility inspections and enforcement, has been located in Kenai since the early 1980s. It includes six people.

"Three of us are coming from Kenai to Homer, three will be transferring out this summer, but we'll be getting three new people," said Geoffrion, who is originally from Massachusetts and has been in the Coast Guard for nine years. The last two years have been in Kenai. "Essentially, that'll end up being at least four or five new families for the Homer area."

The detachment will be in the new space as of Monday, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for May 3.

"That gives a little time for us to settle in," said Geoffrion.

Among those making the move is Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Sullivan who has been in the Coast Guard for 20 years. He is no stranger to Homer, having served on the USCGC Roanoke Island, on the USCGC Sedge during its decommissioning, and then on the USCGC Hickory.

"Seventy-five percent of our workload is currently in Homer," said Sullivan of the MSD's activities. "Most of our customers and industry partners are in Homer, so we were driving back and forth during the busiest time of the year sometimes three and four times a week. ... We're going to save a lot of time and save a lot of money by moving."

The move adds a third U.S. Coast Guard component to the Homer area.

"The USCGC Roanoke Island does a lot of search and rescue and law enforcement, and the buoy tender (USCGC Hickory) does waterways and aids to navigation. Now we'll add the marine safety detachment," said Sullivan.

"Homer is turning into quite the Coast Guard community," said Geoffrion. "I know there's a lot of retired Coast Guard in Homer and there's definitely a lot of (active) Coast Guard around."

Among the retired Coast Guard who were once stationed in Homer are Ben and Kate Mitchell, owners of the building into which the Marine Safety Detachment is moving. The Mitchells also operated Main Street Mercantile, and continue to operate NOMAR in the building next door.

"We kept the wooden floor and the beams," said Kate Mitchell of efforts to keep the historic atmosphere of what was once the Homer Cash Store. (See related story this page.) "They have modern office space with the feel of the old building. It'll be great to have their presence in town."

Kate Mitchell served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Her husband, Ben, had a 22-year career in the Coast Guard. The couple came to Homer in 1978. Ben Mitchell was chief bosun mate on the USCGC Sedge when he retired.

"And here we are," said Mitchell, who is hoping to work with Marine Safety Detachment personnel to compile a list of other retired Coast Guard in the area.

"It would be a nice network," she said.

Capt. Jason Fosdick, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage commander, will be present for the ribbon cutting in May.

"And we're sending out invitations to local politicians and all of our customers, welcoming ourselves to the neighborhood and letting everyone know we're here," said Geoffrion.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.