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Panamax cruise ship docks on the way

Posted: September 22, 2013 - 12:07am

Bids will be awarded this fall for the construction of two floating cruise ship docks designed for the industry’s largest vessels.

Construction of the first dock will begin about a year from now, and the second dock will be built the following offseason so both can be fully operational by the 2016 tourism season. The docks’ cost is about $55 million.

“By building the new cruse ship docks we’re accommodating cruise ships for the foreseeable future,” said Carl Uchytil, Juneau’s port director.

The addition of the new berths will not change the number of cruise ships that can dock in Juneau at any given time, but it will allow the city to accommodate two 1,000-foot vessels at a time. Currently, only the privately owned AJ Dock can accommodate panamax-size ships like the 1,033-foot Celebrity Solstice which visited Juneau 17 times in 2013.

The Celebrity Solstice was one of 19 cruise ships over 900 feet in length to visit Juneau in 2013. Collectively, those ships will have visited Juneau 345 times by the end of the year. Panamax ships are, at most, 965 feet long, the largest size that can cross through the Panama Canal.

“You’re building something for the next 50 years, and we know the trend is larger vessel size,” he said.

The new docks will be floating about 200 feet offshore to accommodate the longer ships. Even though the port will have room for the 1,000-foot plus vessels, those ships are not predicted to be the majority in Juneau anytime soon, Uchytil added.

“The question is, ‘do we want to make Juneau a world-class cruise ship port for years to come?’” Uchytil said. “Economically, we benefit greatly from the million people brought by cruise ships each year.”

Cruise ships were scheduled to bring some 930,000 visitors to Alaska’s capital in 2013, and those visitors account for about 25 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue, Uchytil said.

In addition to tourism dollars, the city charges fees for each ship to dock which help maintain the docks and harbors in the area. For example, the 780-foot Volendam which docked in Juneau Friday paid about $15,600 to stop for the day.

Presently, the two city-owned berths for cruise ships cannot accommodate ships larger than 965 feet in length, and the northern slot can only accommodate up to 780-foot vessels.

The new berths will not affect the two other private cruise ship docking points on the waterfront, or the ability of a fifth ship to anchor in the channel and ferry its passengers to shore.

Special consideration was paid to commercial fishing vessels and larger yachts in the plan’s development. The floating docks allow more room for smaller vessels to dock at the intermediate vessel float near the Taku Smokeries, and the plan includes a large expansion of the city-owned Taku docks.

“We are greatly increasing deck space and making it easier to moor [at the Taku Docks],” Uchytil said.

The area between the People’s Wharf and Taku Smokeries is also being revamped to separate large busses, shuttles and vans and private parking into three different lots. Pedestrian traffic will also be diverted either to the other side of South Franklin Street or the sea walk to keep people away from the bus and shuttle loading zone driveways.

Smaller cruise ships which currently use other docks on the waterfront will continue to be able to do so after the new floating berths are operational.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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