Sometimes our local government really blows it. That appears to be the case with the proposed new floating cruise ship docks, known as Option 16B. The CBJ Assembly appears bound and determined to proceed with this plan despite evolved facts which should cause them to dump the whole idea. As it turns out the docks are not justified by future demands, nor would they be cost effective. The cruise industry itself has informed the city that their projections do not justify any new docks now or in the foreseeable future. In September of 2010, the President of the Alaska Cruise Association, John Binkley, wrote a letter addressed to John Stone, Port Director for the City and Borough.
The letter included the following: “ACA continues to oppose the expansion of the Juneau dock and believes a much more responsible approach is to move forward with the necessary repairs to the existing dock structure. While we are hopeful that recent tax changes will help build back Alaska’s passenger numbers, we are confident that current dock capacities are sufficient to meet our needs in the near and mid-term.” (emphasis added)
More recently, the Alaska Cruise Association sent a letter dated Aug. 31, 2012 addressed to Arthur and Linnea Osborne, owners of the M/V Mongoose, which included the following:
“We have sent numerous letters to the City and Borough of Juneau expressing our opposition to building a new city dock. We have raised navigational issues expressed by our operations staff, concerns regarding the ever growing costs of the project, and our view that given the current traffic level, the expansion is not needed at this time. We have recommended the city pursue maintaining the current dock.”
Another cruise ship association, the Northwest Cruiseship Association has also communicated with the City to the same effect: the docks are not needed.
So why is the city plunging ahead? It appears that the answer is twofold. First, it is an idea that has been in the works a long time, at least since the year 2000 when Docks and Harbors identified a need for more dock capacity. But that was back at a time when the annual passenger count was still growing annually by double digits. Things have changed since then. In recent years, the passenger count actually declined. And while it has recovered, no one is projecting increases of the kind which were occurring 12 years ago. But our Assembly appears not to be interested in inconvenient facts.
Mr. Binkley has also served notice that new emission requirements may cause the industry to deploy their ships elsewhere. This might be a bluff, but it might not. If it happens, the Juneau market would shrink in a heartbeat.
The other reason for the Assembly’s ostrich-like behavior appears to be simply the fact that there is money available, at least to get things started. The Legislature appropriated $9 million and there is ongoing head tax revenue. But even that is not a sufficient reason to spend $72 million for something that is not needed and which would not be cost-effective. Incredibly, it appears that the city has never done a cost/benefit analysis to compare the net benefits to the city if the city were to simply renovate and maintain the existing docks compared to the net benefits (if any) of building Option 16B. I am willing to bet that if a truly objective analysis is done, the conclusion would be that it doesn’t make any sense to build new docks.
• Maas is a Juneau resident.