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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Herring Cove vs. Clam Cove
Similar but different, challenges remain

By Mary L. Stephenson

April 07, 2019
Sunday PM

Revillagigedo and Gravina Islands have access to the state highways: Tongass and Narrows. Both experienced miners and loggers stripping land while homesteaders quietly staked out claims for a better tomorrow. Gateway Borough and Planning Commission has oversight of land for residential and commercial use; 1,160 square miles of untapped resources, wilderness and wonderment to the next generation exploring Ketchikan by 2029.

Welcome to the industry of tourism. Unlike previous male- dominated industries, tourism offers broader diversity in a multi- cultural and non-partisan way, spreading revenues amongst more payrolls, households and education than any previous industry for Ketchikan’s benefit. The phrase ‘if we build it’ not only means the docks and infrastructure but also millions of dollars small business owners who invest in storefronts, equipment and marketing Ketchikan as a fun place to visit; ‘they will come.’

The civil servants regulate, restrict, and deny access seem counter- productive while they chant leisure travelers are saviors to budget.

Revillagidedo’s waterfront property is over developed and heavily regulated; it is only natural neighborhoods like Herring, Ward, Knudson and Settlers Coves are the new frontier for tourism. Buying rural residential lots for less than commercial properties and then rezone to commercial lots has merit for discussion especially when land has been in state, land trust and Native ownership for decades. Do not fault the wisdom of the investor nor question their intentions only after you garner their sales- property taxes, permit fees, pay-to-play contracts; and welcomed lobbyists from cruising leadership who demand more of Ketchikan’s frontier. Receiving CVP funds offsets the reality of their demands.

Island growth can’t build upward; it must spread out into rural areas established by the first homesteaders who initially staked their claim for (precious) pennies on the dollar. Their sweat equity matches their hardship has sentimental value; however, history repeats itself as property ownership turns every 50-75 years; buy low, sell high. A new breed of entrepreneurs’ good intentions for eco-tourism will impact the residential communities. Let’s bring this conversation back to Herring Cove and Clam Cove.

Herring Cove. With timber out, the evolution began when the privately held company, Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary quietly lobbied, established themselves (40 acres) through permits and land ownership on the upper west side of Eagle Creek frontage for a quintessential secluded wildlife experience in 2003.

Lower east side of Eagle Creek transitioned differently as homesteaders, hatchery, KPU utility trucks, tour vehicles and pedestrians crowded onto Power House road owned by State.

In 2017 survey, 55,000 visitors and 5,000 tour vehicles invaded Herring Cove’s neighborhood. It is far from being a quintessential secluded wildlife experience. State and Borough, as landlords, do not generate any retail revenue from independent tour operators; luckily there were private property owners to accommodate parking and restrooms expensed through profitable parking fees.

The borough had the past 16 years to prepare for ‘growth’; they recognize the value of privatizing versus public access by independent tour operators. The latter creates expenses to the general budget that should be drawn from the income of tourism. For economic development, Herring Cove needs public restrooms, road maintenance, viewing boardwalks, signage, TCA staffing, enforcement, public parking at taxpayers’ expense and residents approval.

There have been requests for rezones in the Herring Cove area. In 2013, the Planning Commission reviewed two cases for rezoning. One was approved later withdrew request while the other was denied as his business plan would cause additional traffic congestion to mixed used roadway.

More rezone requests are likely. In my opinion, the Assembly and planning commissioners must reveal their Strategy Plan before they accept or deny any rezoning at Herring Cove.

Clam Cove. It is only a matter of time before a bridge is built from here to there. If the State finances the bridge and Gravina island road system, the borough must get ownership of tidelands and boat launch (Mountain Point example) with authority for public economic development. As a condition to commercial development, waterfront landowners must identify public easement into back country road system with, no doubt, land usage permits or pay-to-play contracts.

Clam Cove, prime for rural development, can use Herring Cove as a model for what went wrong in the decision-making process. Privatizing land without consideration what contribution the independent tour operators (ferry jitney for day-trippers) will be in need of: Dock, backcountry lands, public restrooms and parking would continue to be shortsighted.

Before any rezoning or ordinance takes place for Clam Cove, Assembly and Planning Commission should be encouraging a public meeting with stakeholders well-before June 11th and take a full inventory of intent waterfront ownership, roads authority, island property owners, and public access on private/public lands for independent tour operators. A master plan can assist the zoning as neighbors have an opportunity to declare ‘intent’ for future property use as the industry of tourism is being developed for the neighborhood.

Mary L. Stephenson
Ketchikan, Alaska

About: Mary L. Stephenson has been a resident of Ketchikan for 5 years, has been in the tourism industry for over 30 years.


Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received April 05, 2019 - Published April 07, 2019

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