The Fourth of July wasn’t the only crowd-drawing attraction in Seldovia on Thursday. An impressive line-up of dignitaries turned shovels of dirt, marking the beginning of construction at an old cannery site of a 100-by-60-foot steel frame structure planned to house Seldovia Wild Seafood.
The construction and future business venture raise hope for economic growth in the once-thriving city on the south side of Kachemak Bay.
“This marks a turning point for Seldovia,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who participated in the official start of the project.
Other officials attending the ceremony were Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer; Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director John Torgerson; Seldovia City Council members Vivian Rojas, Geraldine Patrick, Dean Lent and John Colberg; Ronene Gain, wife of Seldovia’s mayor Keith Gain; Michele Bieri of Seldovia Wild Seafood; and Tim Dillon, Seldovia’s city manager.
“These are people who have helped us in a big, big way,” said Dillon of the show of support at the Thursday groundbreaking.
Construction of the building is being done with $565,000 in funding from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Regional Affairs.
Once completed, the city will lease it to Seldovia Wild Seafood to develop a value-added processing plant.
Working with Doug Drum of Indian Valley Seafoods, Seldovia Wild Seafood already is producing a salmon-based dog food and packaging it at a plant in Anchorage.
With construction of the Seldovia facility scheduled for completion by October, Bieri has developed a three-step plan for Seldovia.
During the winter, machinery will be installed in Seldovia so that beginning in summer 2014, Bieri can begin purchasing pinks and chum from local fishermen. Once frozen, the fish will go from Seldovia to Anchorage. In the second year, Bieri’s plan calls for moving the manufacturing and smokehouse operations from Indian to Seldovia. The following year, Seldovia Wild Seafoods will do all its packaging in Seldovia.
Bieri’s son, Brandon, operates the packaging plant in Anchorage and coordinates work with Indian Valley. In Seldovia, Bieri plans to have a half dozen year-round employees, with more during the busy summer season.
Originally from France, Bieri came to the United States in 1979 and to Alaska in 1985. His wife, Elizabeth, is originally from Seldovia. After he visited Seldovia with her in 1985, he called the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage, where he was working, and “said to find a new chef,” he told the Homer News of being captivated by the small, remote community.
After the couple relocated to Seldovia in1986, Bieri opened and operated for six months Chez Bergine, a small restaurant. They moved out of Seldovia for a time, but eventually returned and, in 2001, purchased the Linwood Bar and Liquor Store from Elizabeth’s parents. Bieri also operates the Stuyahok River Lodge, a hunting and fishing lodge on the Mulchatna River, and another camp near Kodiak.
“In 2007, I made the first offer to the city of Seldovia to do some value-added food, get into the commercial fishery somehow in order to keep people during the winter in Seldovia,” said Bieri. “But it didn’t go well in the beginning. They couldn’t get the grant.”
In 2010, Bieri decided to sell the business he had at the time, Paris Bakery and Café in Anchorage, join forces with Drum in Indian Valley and open a packaging plant, using Copper River salmon. Expanding beyond a salmon-based dog food, Bieri also makes a salmon-based pepperoni and barbecue stick for human consumption.
Jay-Brant General Construction is the lead contractor on the new building’s construction, said Dillon. One of the major sub-contractors is Dillon and Dillon Timber and Log Wrights, a Seldovia-based company owned by Tim P. Dillon, not a relative of the city manager.
“There are some things we have to alter because it’s going on old cannery property,” said City Manager Dillon, adding that the city is looking forward to “putting people to work in the building process.”
“This is very exciting for us,” said Dillon, of one of several projects planned for Seldovia.
• A water filtration plant, with $129,000 Village Safe Water funding and $220,000 USDA Rural Development funding;
• Main Street water lines, with $21,985 city of Seldovia funding and $66,514 Village Safe Water funding;
• Boat harbor design with $1 million state of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities funding and $1 million Denali Commission funding;
• Upgrades of an RV park with $98,280 Alaska Department of Natural Resources funding and an in-kind match from the city of Seldovia;
• Construction of a Scenic Byways pavilion with $246,500 state of Alaska DOT&PF funding;
• Creation of a comprehensive plan for the city with $50,000 Kenai Peninsula Borough funding.