The entrance to the PFI plant, now owned by a new company OBI Seafoods, in downtown Petersburg (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

It’s a widespread and long-standing traffic pattern for motorists in Petersburg – the U-turn on main street right in front of the Petersburg Fisheries Incorporated plant. But that practice is being shut down this month to accommodate COVID-19 safety measures for the seafood processing seasonal workforce.

The PFI plant is owned by the newly created company OBI Seafoods, a merger of Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods. That company has set up covered areas for screening its workers before they report to work. It’s part of a protective plan filed with the state and reviewed by the borough. Those areas are along main street and will mean seafood processing workers will be lining up in that front entry, right in the area where motorists typically complete a U-turn. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht outlined the situation during Monday night’s assembly meeting.

“We’re going to have lots of people crossing the road and waiting in line to get tested before they get into the Icicle plant and they’re very concerned as well as we are about people getting too close together or as well as getting out in the street,” Giesbrecht told the assembly. “We’ll be putting traffic signs up. We’ll kill the U-turn down there for a period of time while we’re in the canning season and once that’s over we’ll go back to our normal operation.”

The borough’s public works director Chris Cotta writes in an email that traffic cones and signs will be installed to alert drivers to the change. He writes that the suspension of the U-turn will only last the salmon canning season. Cotta expects workers to be lining up for screening as soon as Wednesday.

Assembly members were supportive of the processing company’s workforce safety measures on a radio call-in show Monday. Chelsea Tremblay acknowledged it would be a tough habit to break for drivers.

“That’s going to be a rough adjustment for some folks that rely on that as their way of driving through town, which I’m somewhat sympathetic with but you know those folks at PFI are going through a lot to try to keep themselves safe so they can keep processing our fish and keep the town economy moving in a way that we really, really need it to,” Tremblay said.” Anyway that we can help as a community and if that includes not bringing our cars to where their line is, it’s the least we can do.”

Local seafood processing kicks into higher gear this week. Commercial crabbing for Dungeness started Monday, along with the opening of additional hatchery king salmon trolling areas. Salmon net fisheries start up this Sunday, with seiners and gillnetters kicking off their season.