Borough pitches 6-Mile mill site to Huna Totem for cruise port

As part of the borough’s quest for a long-term, economic development opportunity at the 6-Mile mill property, officials met last month with officers of Huna Totem Corp., which operates a cruise port at Icy Strait Point near Hoonah and is developing three others around the state.

Borough officials are also thinking that the waterfront property could be a good location for a timber value-added facility or maybe even a solar energy farm.

“We are looking for solutions for the mill property,” Borough Manager Mason Villarma told the assembly May 28. “This (Huna Totem) isn’t our only one.”

One possibility might be a solar power farm, he said in an interview the next day. The Southeast Alaska Power Agency, which operates the Tyee Lake hydroelectric power station and the Swan Lake hydro project near Ketchikan, has expressed interest in looking at solar power, Villarma said May 29. The agency serves Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

The borough paid $2.5 million cash in 2022 to purchase the property of almost 40 acres from the former sawmill operator. It is leasing a small portion of the site to Channel Construction, which operates a scrap metal recycling business, but the borough is looking for a larger, more job-creating tenant or buyer for the long run.

The lease with Channel runs to 2029, with possible extensions.

“We have a gem in that mill property,” Villarma said in an interview May 29. “We are going to explore every opportunity.”

Villarma and Kate Thomas, the borough’s economic development director, flew to Juneau to meet with officials of Huna Totem Corp. last month and gave a presentation on the property and its potential.

Fred Parady, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the village corporation of Hoonah, called it an “initial” meeting. “There are a million details that go into” developing a new cruise ship destination, he said.

“We were excited to hear from them,” and will have follow-up discussions with borough officials, he said.

Though the community in past public meetings and surveys has expressed opposition to a large-scale cruise ship destination at the former mill site, residents have strongly supported development of the site, particularly some kind of industrial use that would create jobs.

Huna Totem’s Icy Strait Point welcomed its first cruise ship in 2004 and now hosts several hundred thousand cruise passengers a year. Built near a restored century-old salmon cannery about a mile north of the Hoonah state ferry terminal, the destination offers visitors a zipline, hiking trails, retail shops and other attractions.

The Hoonah corporation also is an investor in the cruise ship development at Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island. The operation opened to cruise traffic last month, with about 3,700 visitors expected this summer as the new venture ramps up operations.

Two of the cruise ships scheduled to call on Klawock this summer canceled their voyages to Wrangell to make room in their itineraries for the new stop.

In addition to Huna Totem, partners in the venture include Klawock Heenya Corp., the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation for Klawock, and Doyon, the regional corporation for Interior Alaska.

The next cruise ship dock in Huna Totem’s plans — in Whittier, on Prince William Sound — is expected to start operations this summer, Parady said. The $80 million development includes a two-sided pier to accommodate large ships and a 30,000-square-foot welcoming center, he said.

The building is completed but some work remains before the pier opens to traffic this summer, Parady said.

The corporation also has plans to build and operate a cruise ship dock in downtown Juneau, but that project is held up by an appeal against the development’s municipal permit. Plans include retail, restaurants, a park and parking, along with a culture and science center built in partnership with Sealaska Heritage Institute and Juneau’s Native corporation, Goldbelt Inc.


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