Presentation examines Mill site future
A consultancy returned with its draft findings for a feasibility study of developing Wrangell’s former mill site.
A public presentation was given at the Nolan Center yesterday evening, following up on one given on Feb. 17. Washington-based firm Maul Foster & Alongi has spent the past several months assessing the Silver Bay Logging Company mill site at 6-Mile Zimovia Highway, a 110-acre property which the City and Borough of Wrangell has expressed interest in acquiring for future industrial development.
“Overall it went positively,” said Michael Stringer, project manager with MFA. The firm was contracted for the project last October at a cost of $87,000, paid for by the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Since taking on the contract, the company reviewed existing plans and records to determine the existing infrastructure, environmental status, appropriate land use and marketability of the property. MFA also conducted an on-site field investigation, which included a full survey of facilities, interviews and review of documentation.
Physically, the inspectors found the site to be in good order. Because of its former industrialized use, Stringer said the project was initially wary of environmental contamination. From its preliminary inspection, MFA found the property’s owners had previously worked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a cleanup and removal of contaminated soils. The site had since received a determination from the state in 2014.
“That’s a really great sign,” said Stringer.
The site was built out on fill, but the fill was found to be primarily sturdy rock, which may be reusable in future development. For construction of a facility on par with Wrangell’s current boatyard, storm water improvements and paving work would have to be undertaken.
For utilities, a direct line connecting the site to the local grid had once existed, but would need to be reestablished. Water and sewer access ends just 1,000 feet north from the site, which would have to be extended.
“Based on our assessment to date, there seems to be sufficient capacity,” Stringer said of the latter two. Further assessments would be needed, and the demands of the site would depend on the scale of the development.
“We’re so far pleasantly surprised,” said Stringer.
The city has indicated it would like to acquire the site, which benefits from relative closeness to town and access to deep water. In its view, the ideal use for the mill property would be development of larger-scale marine industry and relocation of the current barge yard.
The development there would be complimented by residential development at the former Institute site, a borough property located just to the mill’s north along the highway. A master plan for that property’s development has also been contracted, with public presentations of the latest draft set for June 13 and 15.
“They work together really well,” Stringer said of both projects.
With Wrangell short on available housing, the opening up of the Institute’s 134 acres to residential construction would enable the housing of additional workers, as well as posing some opportunity for commercial and retail services.
The marketability of additional shipyard facilities was framed within the region’s wider maritime industry. Larger-scale service facilities exist in Ketchikan and Kodiak, but MFA estimated a third of the state’s overall commercial fishing fleet is centered in Southeast Alaska.
“Given the success of The Marine Service Center there’s opportunity to build on that,” Stringer suggested. “There appears to be market opportunity for that as well.”
The report anticipated that any future development of the site will need to be undertaken as a private-public partnership, due to the property’s size and the nature of the proposed operations.
MFA will continue working with the city on its draft and provide a plan in the next two to four weeks. A copy of the plan will be made available on the http://www.wrangell.com website once it is completed. As with the Institute proposal and last year’s waterfront master plan, this completed report will serve as a guide for development and can be an asset when applying for available project funding from different sources.