SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



(And We Thought Gateway Forest Products Was Bad)

By David G. Hanger


July 08, 2006

The Tongass Coast Aquarium Project, the Aquarium of Dead Fish, is a scam.   This insane project defines why large public expenditures must be vetted by the voters in all instances, for in this case a small group of Nob Hill snobs crawled into the darkness and intentionally avoided putting this project to the voters, then bragged about that; just the first level of corruption.

Once organized this group appointed themselves as executors of the most massive social engineering and economic engineering experiment ever attempted in Ketchikan.  While doing everything in their power to prevent any voting response from those most affected by their nefarious deeds, they delegated to themselves the authority to (in their own words) "capture the seasonal revenue stream (of the tourist industry) and use it to sustain year around employment, education, research and improved quality of life."  

What this rather bizarre and euphemistic mission statement really means is a small group of local folks have gotten together and have decided to steal as much of the existing tourist industry as they can for the purpose of creating a new mariculture industry that in 20 years will employ 715 people (if you want to believe rainbow BS like that).  Admittedly, no fewer than 136,000 of your tourists are required just to break even.  My numbers suggest this break-even point is more like 225,000 of your tourists, and there is nothing that suggests they intend to stop with that. 

In short what these Nob Hill folks are proposing just in the beginning stage is to divert 20% to 35% of all tourist customers through the portals of their "non-profit" (!!??) operation for the purpose of creating a brand new industry, industrial-strength mariculture in Southeast Alaska. 

I hope you find that as strange as I do.  In the first instance I am simply trying to figure out how it is the responsibility of the local tourist industry to finance an industry that does not even exist yet.  For without even asking the tourist industry or the community this small group of ten in Ketchikan has decided that it is OK to tax the most successful industry in town to the tune of 20% to 35% or more of their customers to support the pipedream of a small bunch of folks, who in many instances are planning on some big paydays along the way. 

Read it all for yourself at, this sordid saga of how a bunch of local folks got together and decided to disrupt, if not out-and-out destroy large segments of Ketchikan's most successful industry to benefit themselves.  These folks really do want to shut down all those jewelry shops and curio shops.  Instead of a plethora of jewelry stores, instead of sidewalk-hawking vendors from somewhere else all summer long our Nob Hill folks will clean up the mess and divert that "revenue stream" to a better use, their use.

I do hope your blood is starting to boil.  Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon said it best when he said, "Government can do it better," and this particular comment is a marvelous blend of good old-fashioned American greed, arrogant idiocy, and neo-fascism.  Through a government-financed operation, the Tongass Coast Aquarium will divert the private sector tourist revenue stream. They have the gall to claim non-profit status while stealing as much of the tourist revenue stream as they can get their hands on.   

Ever wonder how a $42 million government-financed and tourist industry financed operation of $2.5 million and counting per annum gets on Ketchikan's annual wish list?  We are talking about a moderately-sized three-story wooden building for $42 million.  Some big salaries involved in that mess. There's something very big in this project for all of these folks.  This small group has usurped unto themselves a power to which they are not entitled, and to which they have no rightful claim:  To deprive the tourist industry of as much revenue as possible to finance what they decide is good for the community.

It is not the tourist industry's business or responsibility to finance the dreams and schemes of a select few.  The tourist industry's profits belong to the tourist industry, for them to do with as they see fit; and no quasi-government agency designed to finance the schemes and retirements of a bunch of old bureaucrats has the right to divert one thin dime of that industry's revenue.  If you allow these people to get away with this piece of neo-fascist stealing, what's next?  Another 20% to 35% diversion of tourist industry revenues to resurrect the timber industry?   How about wooden bowls?

"Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!" in combination with a slide show and power point presentation seems to be all the lie that is necessary to sell this rip-off at the state level to the tune of $42 million.  It's claimed there will be 38 full-time "new" jobs at the aquarium and another 102 full-time equivalent "new" jobs immediately created in the community, and that's a damn lie.  At best this project is job neutral.  For every job it creates it removes someone from someone else's payroll, locally.  The salaries for those 38 new jobs at the aquarium will all be paid for (purportedly) by revenues diverted ("captured") from the private sector tourist industry.  Nothing new is being created in this process; jobs and revenue are being purloined, that's all.  In the end it is confessed that these 715 jobs twenty years hence is "purely speculative," in short so much hot air.

What's next?  A hundred million in government dollars for a non-profit Grocery, Feed, and Pharmacy designed to "capture" the revenue stream for food and medicines consumed in the region of Ketchikan "and use it to sustain year around employment, education, research, and improved quality of life."  With certainty we will be improving the quality of life of a select few, but first it was all those skilled people in the tourist industry and now all these local grocers that are out of work and out of here.  Next, it will be the a non-profit Construction Company, a non-profit Real Estate Agency, a non-profit Food & Fizzle, and a non-profit Chow & Chisel.  These folks need but assure the powers that be that they have some far in the distant future great social or economic purpose toward which all this private sector revenue should be diverted, and they are in charge of the whole kit and kaboodle forever.  

To comprehend the magnitude of what this group is intending to do all you need to understand is that in the 115 to 120 days of the tourist season upon which cruise ships land, the Aquarium needs 136,000 tourists.  I think the math is quite fuzzy, and somewhere around 225,000 tourists are required to arrive at this group's fictional break-even point for the Aquarium operation.  So what our Nob Hill bunch wants to do is move 1,200 to 2.000 tourists daily some ten miles south of town to go on their tourist ride.  At 40 passengers per bus (which may be high) that's 30 to 50 buses moving daily back and forth south of town.  Thirty to 50 buses!

The tourist industry merchants need to understand these folks plan on having millions and millions of government dollars to promote their product over yours, and whether you are a logging show, a totem pole ride, a jewelry store, or a curio shop to the extent they are successful they are going to eat you up; that is what they intend to do, their stated mission.  They cannot augment what you are doing because they will be depriving you of your customers, and there is no time for any kind of augmentation that might benefit any of you.  Bus drivers rock!  Pathfinders to find the traces of South Tongass Highway after the buses turn its current rubbled condition into unidentifiable powder might be a growth industry, even an interesting new tourist adventure.  Your customers are all going to be out there, "captured" by a bunch of bureaucrats with millions available in promotional capital to overslough your diminutive promotional budgets.  That is their plan.

The educational and research claims of this thing are window-dressing, but for the moment let us assume the Aquarium of Dead Fish is the greatest educational opportunity ever created in Southeast Alaska, that it will produce geniuses by the bucket, woo-hoo.  A 20% to 40% involuntary tax on the tourist industry is not the way to pay for it.

Ketchkan City Mayor Bob Weinstein's involvement in this is disturbing.  Beyond that I will let you all choose the adjectives.  As mayor of this community to intentionally avoid the voters, and particularly the parties most affected, and to go offline and to usurp unto himself (along with a small group of others) the right to re-define the very nature of the tourist industry seems to me an amazingly crude thing to do.  In this instance the mayor's arrogance has outrun his intelligence, and the consequence is a true abomination.  This thing rode high on the local wish list while such issues as the local so-called "cancer" water and its $35 million cure got short shrift.  To what extent has Mayor Weinstein's involvement in this project interfered with other projects?  Shall we say at least $42 million worth.

Gateway Forest Products was a rotten deal, no doubt, but with GFP we at least had a bunch of guys who were pretending to create a business.  With the Aquarium of Dead Fish we have a government-financed business operation, the specified intent of which is to "capture" as much of the tourist revenue stream as possible that is disguising itself as a non-profit entity the primary mission of which is research and education.  What an amazing scam!  As reward we have ten bureaucrats who get to decide how to carve up $42 million in government money while building a modest three-story wooden building.  This Board will be able to reward itself handsomely with government dollars while pretending to be an educational and research institution. 

And pretense is what it is.  To the extent there is any real possibility of adjunctive association either with the University system or the local school system for purposes of education any such institution thereby created must be financed and paid for either by the University system or the local school system.  A private research facility, if it has economic consequence, is something the private sector should be, would be, financing if there are 715 prospective jobs and hundreds of millions in new annual revenues.  Nor is there much evidence to date that such a facility is a primary concern; all the effort and most of the money is directed toward creating a tourist ride to "capture" the tourist industry revenue stream. 

Those locally who think they are in sympathy with this project need to understand that the first "con" is calling this an aquarium.  Shamu's brother, sister, or cousin will not be in residence there, nor will Polly the Porpoise or Dirk the Dolphin.  There's an oversized three-story fish tank ten or 15 feet wide, more a bizarre architectural fixture than a functional piece of equipment.  It is not an aquarium as anyone thinks of an aquarium.  While it may seem that new attractions are a positive thing, new attractions at the cost of a parasite intending to finance its operations by stealing your customers is a succubus no one needs.  This project is not conceived as an augmentation to the existing tourist industry; it is designed to bleed that industry of 20% to 40% of its revenues.  To permit the Mayor, et. al to do this establishes as precedent a government-financed, supra-governmental method by which these folks lcan dictate your future for decades, all on the basis of a snobbish claim that they seek to create a better future as, of course, they see fit to define that future for all of you. 

Perhaps some kind of project along this line has some merit, but this overblown mess is a disaster.  This so-called Board of Directors is the fox guarding the henhouse.  Many of them are also occupying positions in the day-to-day operation of this thing, so there is no possibility of objectivity from this bunch.  In my opinion, these folks put this thing together to help themselves, and whether this thing succeeds or fails is of little consequence to them because they will already have pocketed large sums.  If they succeed in their objectives 1,200 to 2,000 tourists a day will be bused ten miles south of town to the Aquarium of Dead Fish, and for four to five hours of their stay in town none of those tourists will be available to any other business entities.  If in fact they were to succeed to that extent, they would shred the tourist industry as it currently exists. 

If they fail, what then?  I think it is nuts to think one can move even 1,200 passengers on average a day out to this thing.  So when they average 180 a day (a very optimistic number), who is going to pay for that mess?  There is no upside to this project; it is all downside.  They succeed, the tourist industry eats it.  They fail, guess who the these folks come running to? 

I encourage you, therefore, to get behind an effort right now to stop this thing cold.  A bogus $42 million project that this town cannot afford to maintain does not help anyone except the handful of snobs who concocted this thing.  There are other things costing tens of millions that need to be done, so saving the state $42 million should easily free up state money for other more worthwhile local projects. 

In the words of the great Tsao Tsu, "Snobs are like the wind, ubiquitous and generally easy to ignore.  But leave the snob in charge of the henhouse, the snob will not only end up owning all the hens; the snob will also own you."  

David G. Hanger
Ketchikan, AK - USA

About: David G. Hanger is a long time resident of Ketchikan and a local business owner.


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