Story last updated at 12:19 p.m. Thursday, May 2, 2002

Economic forum focuses on bay's south side

Happenings in Seldovia

by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

The Seldovia City Council and the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce teamed up last week to discuss economic development.

A group of business leaders, politicians, and economic development planners and consultants from Seldovia and across Southcentral Alaska spent Thursday and Friday at the Community Center, sharing ideas and hearing the concerns of the people on the south side of Kachemak Bay.

Telecommunications, transportation, tourism and the prospects for industry were the chief areas of focus.

A big issue for people was the need to stay connected with the rest of the southern Kenai Peninsula, not to mention the rest of the world, Seldovia City Manager Ken Weaver said.

As representatives from Alaska Communications Systems and AT&T looked on, locals complained that there is virtually no reliable cell phone service for much of the Seldovia area. In addition, people were curious about the fact that it requires a long distance call for Port Graham residents to phone Seldovia, less than 10 miles away as the crow flies.

"Particularly, the people in the Port Graham area were not happy about the long distance tariff," Weaver said.

There was more talk of enhancing ferry service to the southern bay communities, with Clem Tillion presenting the concepts involved in making a more direct, short-haul ferry service work. More reliable transportation might also involve upgrades in the Jackalof Bay and Rocky River roads.

According to Weaver, Tillion said that by allowing access to the Gulf of Alaska via the Rocky River Road, residents in the Seldovia area might enhance fishing and tourism opportunities on the Peninsula's outer coast. People in the Seldovia area seemed to feel that maintaining a connection to the fishing industry is very important, Weaver said.

Jeff Berger of Deep Creek Custom Packing offered one option when he talked of the opportunity for area commercial fishermen to participate in a new regional drive to market premium "Kenai Wild" brand sockeye salmon.

Berger, representing the Kenai Peninsula Borough Salmon Branding Project, talked about efforts to differentiate Cook Inlet-caught sockeye from the other salmon, particularly farm-raised salmon.

"It's not the same product at all," Berger said of farmed salmon. "The only thing that's the same is the name salmon. You just can't compare it."

Berger said the Seldovia fishermen can produce Kenai Wild sockeye by participating in a quality-assurance program that mandates careful handling and processing of the fish at every step down the "chain of custody."

Weaver said, Doug Drum of Anchorage-based Indian Valley Meats made a similar presentation regarding the opportunities for local processing of meats and fish.

"I would hope that people got some ideas about entrepreneurial directions for themselves," Weaver said.

The ideas regarding the Seldovia tourism industry included looking for ways to increase the length of time the average visitor stays in the quaint fishing village, Weaver said.

"That might even be training our own people to be nice to them," he said.