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Planning approves Panamax cruise dock

Asks Assembly for second look at Fisherman's Memorial relocation decision

Posted: June 27, 2012 - 5:30pm  |  Updated: June 28, 2012 - 12:06am

Juneau’s Planning Commission Tuesday approved plans for construction of a new downtown dock that can accommodate the cruise industry’s newer 1,000-foot Panamax cruise ships. 

The dock’s Conditional Use Permit and State Project Use Review were passed on to the Assembly for final approval along with a recommendation to review its original finding to not move Fisherman’s Memorial.

The proposed cruise dock would consist of a concrete floating structure, dolphins, gangways and small vessel float to serve ships up to 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide.

Dock plans were recently updated to provide space for fishing boats to maneuver as they offload at Taku’s commercial dock. Among other changes, alignment of the dock was shifted offshore to give fishing vessels 200 feet of clearance to maneuver.

CBJ Docks and Harbors Port Engineer Gary Gillette said the changes add to the project’s total cost.

“We’ve made major adjustments that have added $8 million to $10 million,” Gillette said. “We realize that it has to cater to all users in a safe and adequate manner. We resolved a number of issues and have a better project for it.”

CBJ has agreed to install a safety barrier on the cruise dock to ensure a small fishing vessel won’t drift into the dock’s catwalks while waiting to offload at the Taku Dock. The plan also includes about 200 feet of cleats for waiting boats.

Gillette said the changes appear to safely accommodate cruise ships.

“We will follow up with a docking simulation at a simulator in Seward,” Gillette said.

If approved by the Assembly, construction is not expected to begin until 2014, Gillette said. He said CBJ plans to have the South section of the dock finished first, with the entire project complete by 2016.

Timely approval of the project is important, Gillette said.

“They are very large floats,” Gillette said. “There are only a few places in the Northwest where they can be built. We want a long lead time.”

Gillette said the cruise dock project can coincide with work planned for the Taku Dock as part of the cruise ship head tax.

Public testimony ranged from strong support for the project and its affect on the downtown area to concern that the dock supports the cruise industry over commercial fishers offloading at the Taku Dock.

Larry Spencer, president of the Downtown Business Association said his organization was very supportive of the project. He said design of a better 2-berth public dock system downtown started 20 years ago.

“Two public docks are essential to the continued health of our downtown,” Spencer said.

Greg Fisk, consultant for Taku, said the updated plan represents a lot of improvement — an upgrade from the previous version, which, Fisk said was “clearly unworkable.”

Fisk said Taku will monitor whether the new dock will need the addition of attenuators that redirect thruster wash away from vessels waiting to offload fish. Taku transferred 7.8 million pounds of fish at its dock in 2011.

“Hopefully, that is not going to be a problem,” Fisk said.

Hank Baumgart, president of Taku Smokeries and Icy Strait Seafoods, Inc., said he is not “thrilled” about project. He said he would prefer the piers oriented offshore.

Linnea Osborne, co-owner of the Fishing Vessel Mongoose, said the new design still leaves too little room for larger, older vessels.

“The mist, the fog, the wind, the snow, when you’re on a boat, sometimes your visibility isn’t that good,” Osborne said.

Osborne said the new plan did not take into consideration of all users of the area.

Paul Thomas of Juneau said he supports the project.

“This project will get Juneau back up to the status quo,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a huge benefit to downtown area.” He said he believed the new dock is the only way Juneau will get a Sea Walk.

“Get the bidding started,” Thomas said.

The issue now goes before the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly for final approval.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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