An out-of-state company is taking steps to build dock facilities that could support a restaurant and lodge in China Poot Bay, worrying some Homer residents who fear the business will ruin the wilderness qualities of the mostly pristine area.
China Bay, a company with a California mailing address, has applied with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to build a 125-foot floating dock, a 100-foot aluminum gangway and a boardwalk the length of two football fields. It purchased a 26-acre parcel along the bay in April.
If approved, the facilities could provide access to a proposed restaurant and 10-bedroom commercial lodge about 4 miles southeast of Homer across Kachemak Bay, according to plans published by the Corps on Monday.
The plans and work already underway suggest the development will be large and "high impact" in a bay that for decades has had only one commercial lodge, said Beth Trowbridge, executive director of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, which provides educational trips from neighboring Peterson Bay.
"I'm cautious and worried about what this will do to an area that has been a special place for people," Trowbridge said.
After barging in a bulldozer and other equipment, the owners have started constructing a four-bedroom owner's house, observers say. The house, along with the lodge and restaurant, does not need Corps approval because it would be built above the high-tide line, the Corps said.
The partially built house is large and set back from a cliff, so it's especially visible from the water, said Gart Curtis, skipper with Mako's Water Taxi in Homer.
"When you see wild country going under a bulldozer, it makes you stop and think," he said. "But it is their property. I'm not convinced I have a right to say anything about it, but I'd sure like to see China Poot stay beautiful."
China Poot Bay's only commercial development is Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, founded 47 years ago. It has five cabins and a lodge, and typically houses 10 guests, said co-founder Michael McBride.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in July stayed at the lodge, which charges $1,000 a night, according to news reports.
McBride said he took pains to blend the Kachemak lodge into the bay landscape. It's tucked into a "cul-de-sac in a cove." He said he helped create the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies decades ago, and his lodge focuses on natural history education.
A second lodge in the bay won't be an economic threat because the Kachemak Bay lodge is well established, McBride said. He's concerned about development on China Bay's land because it has important historical value.
Alaska Natives used the land for thousands of years and it hosted a fox farm a century ago, he said. He'll point out those qualities to the Corps.
"The operation of industrial heavy equipment on an archaeological site is not in the best interest of the general public because of the historical importance," he said.
China Bay wants to build the lodge in summer 2018, the Corps said.
Gary Fisher, 66 and owner of the China Bay company, said Tuesday he has visited Homer a few times. Fisher, a U.S. citizen living in Hong Kong, said he likes China Poot Bay because it's close to Homer and the wilderness.
He wanted a family vacation home in the bay. He said the dock is necessary to handle large tides and provide access for the house.
Future plans are uncertain, he said. If he builds a lodge and restaurant, Homer residents will be welcome, said Fisher, who owns OneWorld Solutions, an electronics manufacturer with a Hong Kong office.
"Whatever we build there, we'll be sensitive to the landscape," Fisher said.
Gail Fisher, Gary's sister and China Bay's manager, said the China Bay company was created for the China Poot project.
Gail Fisher, from Santa Barbara, California, said the commercial lodge may never be built.
"The engineer mentioned if you're thinking it might happen in the future, it's better to put that out there up front," she said.
The Army Corps of Engineers will take public comment through Oct. 3. The application to build the dock and boardwalk in the bay, a navigable U.S. water body, falls under the Clean Water Act.
China Bay wants to begin building the dock in October and be done by August, the Corps says. Six steel pilings, each 16 inches across, would support the floating dock. Another 68 pilings, 12 inches across, would support the boardwalk.
The project won't adversely affect essential habitat for salmon, including sockeyes and silvers, the Corps said. It may affect animals protected under the Endangered Species Act, including beluga and humpback whales. The Corps will consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service about those concerns.
Bob Shavelson, with Homer-based conservation group Cook Inletkeeper, said the group is reviewing the newly released plans. He has concerns about what he called an "unusually large dock structure" for the region.
"It's really going to change the complexion of China Poot Bay," he said.