When Opportunity Knocks, Will Seldovia Answer?

| February 15, 2013 | 41 Comments

by Jenny Chissus, Seldovia Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board

Jenny Chissus PortraitYesterday was a very disappointing day for Seldovia.  As the beautiful snow was falling, blanketing our community in glorious white, I received a call from Njord Rota, co-owner of Kenai Heli Ski.  He informed me that more than 8 weeks of booked heli ski guests will not be coming to Seldovia.  Due to opposition to their business, from a few very vocal, local individuals, Kenai Heli Ski is heading to Thompson Pass, outside of Valdez.

After over a year of working on this project to bring a two-month season of Heli Ski to our community during a normally “dead” period for our business community – Njord and his team have pulled out of Seldovia.

I realize that there will be a small group of folks rejoicing at this news, but is this the best solution for Seldovia and her future?  As with any new opportunity and development plans, there was legitimate concern about heli ski’s affect on our community and those voices were heard.  Kenai Heli Ski met with our chamber members and community members, held public meetings to explain their interest and had been given full support by our Chamber of Commerce, Seldovia Native Association and City Council along with many individual business members who saw this as a great way to extend our tourism season and bring new opportunities to town.  Having spoken with a few of these business owners already, they are very, very disappointed.

There were folks who were very vocal about their concerns which were immediately addressed openly by Njord.  One of the main issues that folks were concerned about was helicopter noise.  Njord had explained that the helicopters would go out in the morning and return at the end of the day, spending the full day in the mountains.  He explained that the noise impact would be minimal, especially in comparison to the two regular flight services that operate out of Seldovia (ranging from 10-20 arrivals and departures daily).  There was also concern about “buzzing around neighborhoods” and spoiling the “peace and quiet in the mountains for hikers and local skiers” and once again, Njord reaffirmed that they have a “Fly neighborly” policy, meaning that they get out and away from areas with people or wildlife, in fact when they see a skier or animal in the hills – they immediately relocate to another area.  The whole point of heli ski is to go where there isn’t anyone else!

There was also mention that there would be no benefit to Seldovia. I believe this was an unfortunate misconception.  In fact, I know of two local lodging establishments that had bookings for this upcoming heli ski season.  One of these locations was booked solid for two months.  I personally had received inquiries from local (Alaskan) individuals looking to book for just two days or so, as they hoped to get in on a single day of skiing.   I know that Njord was working with a local caterer to put together the meals for the skiers here in town as well, and that too is over.  Aerotech is building a large hanger at our local airport to house his helicopters, and they are employing a large handful of local workers.  This was just the beginning of the many potential business opportunities that could have come together while developing a winter tourist season for Seldovia.

The exposure alone for our community has been incredible and invaluable, with advertising in Powder Magazine, Powder Hounds, Teton Gravity, Meier Skis and even on Women’s Sporting News – advertising for an All Women’s Heli Ski Camp called “She Shreds” with World Tour Champions as guides and instructors.  This is a reach much greater than we could have ever done on our own as a chamber or community – Kenai Heli Ski spent a lot of money promoting this experience in Seldovia to skiers around the world.

Though Kenai Heli Ski received permits to ski in the Federal lands surrounding Seldovia and the Seldovia Native Lands, they  were not granted a permit from the Kachemak Bay State Park, in spite of the fact that they had over 1,400 letters of support.   The Parks have let Njord know that a decision might not be made on this issue for as many as three years – which also made a serious impact on their ability to use Seldovia.

These two newcomers to Seldovia, Kenai Heli Ski and Aerotech Inc. (local helicopter service), received a lot of support from individuals as well as the business community of Seldovia, and Njord was very pleased with the great reception they received by skiers willing to travel to our destination.  Unfortunately, they were both approached with serious threats to their facilities, equipment and guests by local individuals who were opposed to the heli ski operation.   These threats were not only made to these two business operators, but also extended out to their sponsors, and other decision makers in our state – stating that “Seldovia” doesn’t want them here, and threatening to harm the skiers if they came to Seldovia.  Unbelievable.  In my opinion, though this may be the feelings of a very small minority of people, it is leaving a very negative impression of our community.

Kenai Heli Ski is arriving in Alaska today, but they are not coming to Seldovia – they are heading to Thompson Pass.   They have received overwhelming support from the folks in Valdez.   Njord said to me yesterday: “They are excited to have us, and are looking forward to the business opportunities for their community.  We are thrilled to have a place to go where there is great skiing, and where our guests will be welcomed.  I am very disappointed about not going to Seldovia, as I personally really liked the community and could see myself making a personal investment there to enjoy it’s beauty year-round.”  Njord truly believed that besides great skiing, our community’s intimate setting could have been a magical and a truly unforgettable experience for his guests.  I agree – Seldovia has the ability to leave a very positive impression on visitors!

Who knows what Kenai Heli Ski could have brought to Seldovia?  We won’t ever know.   I am not saying that every business venture is a good one for our community, but if we want people to even consider coming to Seldovia, to build beautiful homes here, enroll kids in our school, invest and create businesses so that they can afford to live off the road system – then we need to consider SUPPORTING small businesses and ENCOURAGING opportunities that come our way!  We need to look at the big picture.

It requires a lot to run your own business, to take risks and invest time and money to create something for our families and community!  Let’s stand up for our business leaders like the Crabpot Grocery, The Tidepool, Central Suites, Dillon Construction, SVT, The Linwood and the fishermen who operate out of Seldovia.  Let’s encourage those new business owners taking a chance to provide a new service to our community, like Creationz, Thyme on the Boardwalk  and  Auntie’s!  Please forgive me for not mentioning everyone, we are ALL important here, and each of us plays a vital role in our business and social community!

Bottom line, we can’t allow people to threaten others in the community.  We are not in 3rd grade, and we do NOT live in Chicago.  It is OK to disagree, but let’s be civil, respectful and reasonable!  We are like family.  But like family, sometimes folks say crazy things, or do irrational things out of passion or intense emotion – but we can’t threaten or frighten each other, or be intimidated by new opportunities that come our way!   Let’s, as a community not let this kind of behavior continue.

I believe that Seldovia has missed out on an opportunity that could have been very positive for our community’s future development and stability.  Just like Homer, who had the opportunity to host the Sea Life Center – but for some reason, folks were in opposition, so that wonderful facility, with jobs, educational opportunity and a state-wide tourist attraction went to Seward, where it was welcomed with open arms!    Don’t we want Seldovia’s reputation to be one that is welcoming, supportive, encouraging and problem solving for those who visit or come to live and do business?  This is a beautifully situated community, with many assets (great people and beautiful surroundings) and we must be willing to protect and promote positive growth.

What do you want to do, Seldovia?

I welcome your comments – Tell me what you think!

UPDATE FEBRUARY 16, 2013:  In writing, and re-writing this article, I eliminated many things which may have offered more clarity to the story.  It was already so long…  One thing that I need to replace in the article is that a majority of the “naysayers” for this venture came from the other side of the bay, or from locations other than Seldovia.  If any of you heard the radio show about the permit for the Kachemak Bay State Park, which was an hour long, the majority of folks commenting were from the other side and some had summer residences on the south side of Kachemak Bay – not tied into Seldovia at all.  There was only one individual form Seldovia who was able to comment live on the radio, and he was not in support of the park being accessed by helicopters.  The host mentioned that the lines were flooded and I’m certain that many individuals were unable to voice their opinions, both for and against.

The main point that I think is important to note, is that the majority of people in Seldovia saw this opportunity as a good one – and unfortunately, due to a small and very vocal minority, we didn’t get to find out where this would go and what it could have brought to our community.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2013:  This was an email received by Ted Stallings, and is printed here with his permission.

Hi Jenny,

I am currently in Central America on business and answering you on the iPad, so pardon my misspellings and grammar, but your facts are totally correct. Njord and I were regularly comparing “threat” letters. My letters were towards our hanger and promises to shoot down the helicopter. My letters came from a small group, mostly from Homer. Some were signed and some were not. I respected their opinions, but as you know, we have a large investment in Seldovia and my wife and I are in Seldovia to stay. We love Seldovia, love bringing our friends there, look forward to continued business in Seldovia and nothing has changed from us other than, we will not be flying Njord’s clients Heli-Skiing.

Njord on the other hand, his threats were towards his business, his clients, his guides and even his corporate sponsors. The many letters Njord received signed “Seldovia” did come mostly from the Seldovia area. Even though they were not signed, they were from a select few IP addresses, therefore he knows who they are.  I completely understand Njord’s decision to go somewhere else, as he has to be assured of his client’s safety and good time.

Again, I can’t express my thanks enough for the support of my neighbor, Erik & Angie Schreier, the Chamber, the City, the SNA, the SVT as well as many other local individuals.  This is very unfortunate.

Ted Stallings

In reference to the lack of the permit for the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Park area, Ted had sent in a previous letter:  “The permits were not the issue. Njord had permission to ski plenty of Native and State Lands. The reason for pulling out was because of local threats and opposition towards him and his clients.”

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Comments (41)

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  1. What a well-done and informative post, Jenny. Thank you for your time….

  2. Andrea Leigh says:

    Erin makes an excellent point, and if stallings and njord know who wrote the threats, why weren't they reported?

  3. Linda Fell Hill says:

    Wow, Kenny. So disappointing…

  4. Jenny Chissus says:

    Please note UPDATE on February 19, 2013 with a response to the situation by Ted Stallings, owner of Aerotech Inc.

  5. Willy Nye says:

    Maybe the fast ferry will pan out this year!

  6. Willy Nye says:

    Too bad for Seldovia Buck.

  7. Warren Brown says:

    A big businessman throws in the towel because a few people complain ? Something smells fishy…is this just an excuse because he will not get the state permits and that Valdez offers way better skiing?

  8. Mike Driscoll says:

    The saddest point about this whole affair is that it doesn't seem all that surprising to me.

  9. Linda Fell Hill says:

    Whoops, Jenny not Kenny!

  10. Crystal Kashevarof Collier says:

    I think that Njord was a businessman that saw opportunity in having helicopters readily available, mountains void of other competing Heli ski operators and a quaint little town that could offer his guests a step back in time, real relaxation and unbelievable beauty. What he didn't foresee was opposition from a minority that must have the right contacts to make their voice louder than the majority. I attended two community meetings where the opposition voiced their concerns about competition for the snow. Only a few of us spoke in favor, 7-8 opposed.

    Needless to say Seldovia, we need a diverse economy with people like Njord included that are willing to invest in us. We all have different reasons why we like to live here, but lets all reason together and agree on what is good for Seldovia as a whole. This is a missed opportunity that could have had potential we will never know…

    If there is something to learn from this..I hope we do. We need to support new businesses and ideas, lets help businesses that want to invest in Seldovia

  11. Jenny Chissus says:

    Thanks Mark! I appreciate all that you said, and I agree that not securing the permit made a difference to the opportunities available for skiing around Seldovia. Perhaps Valdez will meet their needs – it is just too bad that it didn't come together for Seldovia, as Kenai Heli Ski did have a lot of support for the venture here.

  12. Very well said, Allison. Maybe there is lot many of us don't kniow about this venture.

  13. SeldoviaGal says:

    Thanks Mark! I appreciate all that you said, and I agree that not securing the permit made a difference to the opportunities available for skiing around Seldovia. Perhaps Valdez will meet their needs – it is just too bad that it didn’t come together for Seldovia, as Kenai Heli Ski did have a lot of support for the venture here.

  14. Mark Janes says:

    I am writing in response to my friend Jenny’s posting as I have some perspective as a “skier” who recreates and lives in the hills around Seldovia. I know some of my skiing companions were vehement in their opposition to the heli-skiing operations. I understand and appreciate their opinions, but I think this vocal minority of individuals is being give too great of credit in the discontinuation of the plans for the heli-operation.
    I ski less than I would like, but I get up at least a half dozen times a year. The magic is not just the going down, but the climb up. You spend most of the time “earning your turns.” The ski descents here are short, steep and you are frequently dodging alder and ice as you near the end of a run. The ongoing joke of Seldovia Skiing is geting whipped in the face by an alder branch or a certain members of a party finish a run skidding to an icy halt on their backs. (OK. MY back.)
    I was motivated by Jenny’s post to go and read the Kachemak Bay State Park Advisory Board Meeting minutes over the past 4 months. The board assists park staff with management and development issues. In permitting such activities in the Park, I am sure the Supervisor must consider their advice. If he doesn’t what use would there be in having such a board? In November, the board voted 4-0, with one person abstaining, to not allow the permitting of 2 heli-skiing operations in the park. Although not diminishing the threats Njord Rota reported, that to me seems to be a much more considerable blow to his plans. In December the notes from the meeting read, “Njord Rota sent in a response to the Heli Skiing proposal. After reviewing the comments Njord may be appealing the decision to wait until the management plan has been revised.” Rota pointed out that the public comments the Park received were heavily in favor of the permitting, but he chose not to pursue his appeal instead soon thereafter choosing to move his operations to Valdez.
    When I meet these heli-ski guys in the Linwood last year, I think it was February or March, I was struck with their openness, their willingness to talk about their business plans. It sounded like they had done this before. I am now left with the impression that they were moving a little fast and making promises that couldn’t be delivered. I profess ignorance of the machinations of vacation and adventure reservation, but I cannot understand how a business could sell ski trips when they didn’t have the permissions to ski yet.
    At the time, my friends and I bought them a beer to thank them for coming to our community. They talked about the possible skiing in the areas west of Seldovia. While listening, we explained that the year that they were visiting was a weather anomaly. After Solstice, it was cold and snowy until the end of March. And they were flying around during a cold, clear snap that was just stunning. Today as I write it is 30º and lightly snowing. No planes are flying and I don’t think any will fly today. I assume no helicopters could fly either. 2 days ago it was blowing gales, but yesterday was nice. My experience tells me this year is more “normal.” I think that a business that relies on the weather conditions in Seldovia in winter is undertaking a big risk and local businesses would be assuming that risk as well.
    The company would undoubtedly be heading west to the bigger mountains in the Chugach Range. Homer is closer to these mountains. Operations there would require less fuel, there is more support services for helicopters and tourism, and you can almost always get there. Permits were issued back in the 1990’s in the State Park to Maritime Helicopter Services for backcountry skiing. It never happened. But Valdez, Girdwood and the Thompson Pass have flourished. Why?
    The mountains in these other areas are much higher, more inland and therefore less influenced by the maritime climate, and the communities have a 20-year track record of being used for this kind of activity. During our conversation in the bar with the heli-ski guys, they said they realized the company would be looking at a couple of years of losing money to build the business in Seldovia. They will probably make money in Valdez because the conditions are better and the support services are intact. Rota’s was a business decision, based on making the most of his investment. I for one think that it was the correct decision for him.
    I have had the absolute worst ski days in the hills behind my house, but also the most sublime and transcendent. The mountains aren’t going anywhere and other entrepreneurs are more than welcome to give it go making money in our beautiful backyard.
    That was a little long winded.
    P.S. A friendly reminder that it is February in Seldovia!

  15. Chris Lillo says:

    What do you know about mountains and snow? ;)

  16. Sorry folks, the mountains surrounding seldovia could never support a heli ski business. I thought it was a joke when I heard it last summer. Ask anyone in the heli ski business (CPG, H20, Valdez Heli camp tordillo mt lodge) if the Kenai mts around Seldovia are viable to support a heli ski operation. No one had eight weeks booked with camps. These are lies or like I said a joke. No one is ever coming to Seldovia to go heli skiing and I am sure Seldovia can find something more important to argue about.

  17. Sadi Synn says:

    Well, maybe Jeff Lee's original plan will be reactivated. No helicopters involved in landing or flying over certain areas, mostly trekking in.

  18. Seems to me that the company should have had all their land access permits confirmed prior to getting Seldovia excited about a boom in winter tourism? Before local, state, and federal hoops are jumped through, any business venture is just wishful thinking. Too bad it didn't work out. And too bad the folks of Seldovia were misled on the certainty of the deal.

  19. Robin Nicole Giossi says:

    I have rewritten my comment to this article about 50 times. I am just going to write that anyone who is willing to turn away jobs, economic growth, and increased tourism to our already dwindling community is either painfully ignorant of how so many are suffering right now, or are so selfish and self-serving that they just plain don’t care who they hurt. I am disgusted at the threats of violence, and I am so devastated that this didn’t go through.

  20. I disagree with Casey too, having lived here more than fifty years and have seen a lot of business growth and business quashing. Worked for SNA for many years too, and they were always trying to make Seldovia conditions better, as it was good for everyone. This isn't the first business that has left town. Twenty years ago or so, SNA drew up plans for a nice hotel here, and when it was presented at a public meeting, there was so much nay-saying and complaining that the Dimond Center Hotel was built in Anchorage. We need to pull together as a community if we want to bring Seldovia back from this economic slump we are in. Hopefully, we can do it !!

  21. Kevin Gain says:

    I've been out of the loop but after reading that article I came away with the taste of burning straw man

  22. Threats of violence are clearly unacceptable, and should have been reported to authorities. Without that, how are we supposed to judge the accuracy of vague allegations made against unnamed individuals?

    More importantly, it seems like their plan required a permit in a state park, and they didn't have it. Blaming the community (we don't run the park) is beside the point, and I'm surprised so many of the comments seem to imagine that Seldovians had the power to sway this one way or the other. Also, businesses are always making business decisions. I wouldn't be surprised if the snow conditions here this winter would scare off any ski business, whether or not they'd admit it as a factor. Geographically, Valdez is a much more promising spot.

  23. Heidi Geagel says:

    I work for the tribe and it's true a lot of that has to do with the fact there are no other jobs but also its a great opportunity for me and my family and as a somewhat insider I must say the people working their are going through the same struggles as me. No jobs for spouses or other family unless you make them yourselves or travel out, no affordable places to live so it's hard to bring in anyone new, even new employees they try to enlist and not enough educational opportunities for our youth though we try our hardest, more and more are starting to have to leave in their school years. I have sat at countless staff meetings where everyone brainstormed what we could bring in or do to make this community thrive and I can say nobody was opposed to it, we all want this to be our home and our children's home, but that can't happen without growth, in which the tribe as a collective of working people and families is fully supportive. It would be asinine not to be if you care for this community and the families in it.

  24. Robin Nicole Giossi says:

    The Seldovia Village Tribe was in full support of this. They wrote letters of support and did all they could to help facilitate the success of this business opportunity.

  25. Just read your article, Jenny. It was excellent. The ignorance & mean spiritedness of people always amazes me. Having ones own opinion or viewpoint is one thing, but to actually threaten others is beyond my comprehension. Seldovia has been harmed &hopefully this attitude will not influence others that may want to invest in our small community.

  26. Valerie Morin says:

    How very, very sad. Incredible opportunity missed. Thank you for your comments Jenny.

  27. Seldovia.com says:

    Thanks Jan for your comments. My hope in getting this out is letting folks know that we have a choice in the direction of our community.

  28. Seldovia.com says:

    I believe our community wants great things, a beautiful Main Street, thriving businesses and a full school – meaning families enjoying living here in this amazing community – that is why we moved here – but everyone needs to know that we each play a role in the future of our city! Knowledge is power!

  29. Seldovia.com says:

    Brian, I think there is a lot of support for Michel's operation here in Seldovia – we are looking forward to the new opportunities for jobs and income for our community! Last word I heard was that things are coming together! Let's stay together on this!!!

  30. Seldovia.com says:

    Casey – I disagree – as the Tribe and SNA gave their full support to this venture and offered permits on their land for the heli ski operation. I realize you have a long history here – and are privy to many things I am not, but in this case – the Tribe and SNA gave their full support to this idea for Seldovia.

  31. Jan Standefer says:

    Very, very well stated Jenny. Glad when I got to the part where you described these "Few" individuals as "3rd graders"! How absolutely immature to actually threaten them? I was so very excited for Seldovia to be getting a winter "pick me up" too! What ever happened to "the majority rules"? Was this voted on? No one seemed to worry about the noise from the ATV rentals running all over and in town during the summers! Or when the huge HEA generator runs during the power outages! When the helicopter was cruising around checking power lines or whatever during the power outage at Christmas time when I was back home, I hardly heard them and they were just over the tree tops by Backer's Island and up the slough area! I'm so sorry for the people of Seldovia! Sorry you still have a few old barnicles that have spoiled the stew for all…..

  32. Warren Brown says:

    Wow.i couldn't really see a down side. Middle of winter, no business whatsoever in town,not much more noise than the airport usually has,operating in areas nobody goes…typical

  33. Brian Slover says:

    Wow a mile stone..the tribe and city agreed on an issue, this one. To bad they can't do it more often and in doing so this community would be light years ahead….where is the support for Seldovia sea food plant which would bring year round employment..

  34. Jenny my hat is off to you for speaking the truth. It is yet another disappointment for me as I look at Seldovia's future.

  35. Casey Bond says:

    No matter what the potential new business is ,If it doesnt line the pockets of particular tribe members it will never happen in that town. Truely disqusting to have seen oppurtunities over the years for growth get destroyed by the same few people. Maybe seldovia will always just have to live off of artifical jobs through grant money, legit businesses doesnt seem to be of interest.

  36. Jeff Swick says:

    pretty sickening..

  37. Shad Wells says:

    Wow, what a missed opportunity. Year round tourism would really be good for the Seldovia economy. Many times I would look up at those mountains and think about the world class skiing that was all around but inaccessible to the average person.

  38. Does anybody know who these individuals are?

  39. Chaz Nichols says:

    Well said. Sad for seldovia.

  40. This is truly unfortunate. It's a lost opportunity that Seldovia will almost certainly not get back. Already, local businesses are feeling the impact with cancelled reservations and more.

    Even worse is that people willing to invest in our community were bullied by threats of physical violence from a small minority. Such acts undermine the process, impede civil, rational discussion and do not represent our community as a whole.

    Seldovia has lost a terrific opportunity for a world-class operation that would have brought jobs, revenue and positive attention. Njord didn't have to look long to find a community who understood this and welcomed him with open arms. I wish it could have been ours.

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