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A town divided

Hoonah split over new cruise ship dock

Posted: October 27, 2013 - 12:13am
  Mike Plett | Juneau Empire
Mike Plett | Juneau Empire

The small city of Hoonah is the site of an intense political and economic battle that has been raging for the better part of a decade, and the sides are not even close to a compromise.

It would be unfitting, however, to say they’re miles apart, because the dispute is about building a new cruise ship dock in one of two locations which are only about 1,000 feet apart.

“It’s their way or no way,” Hoonah Mayor Nino Villarreal said. “That’s just the way it is.”

The city is at odds with the Huna Totem Corporation about the location of a new cruise ship dock that has been in the works since 2004.

Huna Totem wants the dock on Icy Strait Point, which is near the corporation-owned tourist stop and only accessible through corporation property.

The city, on the other hand, is pushing for building the facility at Shaman Point, which is closer to town and would allow for the dock to stay in use year-round — a core goal of the city, Villarreal said.

“We’re kind of looking out for the best interests of the town,” the mayor said. “It would help us if it was a multipurpose (dock), but at (Huna Totem’s) location it’s highly unlikely.”

That’s because the waters get a lot rougher near the Icy Strait Point location during the winter due to it being more exposed to the large channel just north of Hoonah.

“In the wintertime you can’t really dock there,” Villarreal said.

An Empire request for an interview with a representative for Huna Totem was not returned as of press time.

During the five months of cruise ship season, however, it is a perfectly acceptable docking location, which has led to the cruise industry’s endorsement of Huna Totem’s preferred location.

Still, that would preclude the city from any revenue generated from increased cruise ship traffic other than an uptick in sales tax revenue.

“They’d get it all,” Villarreal said, adding that the city would still be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the dock should a need arise.

The cruise ship industry backing Huna Totem led to several newly elected city council members to propose a resolution, debated at a meeting last week, that would equate to a city endorsement of the Native corporation’s proposal. The meeting ended abruptly without any progress being made and with most attendees furious with the other side, according to one person who attended but declined to have their name printed in the newspaper.

“It caught us quite by surprise,” Villarreal said of the proposal, adding that the cruise ship industry saying they wouldn’t use the Shaman Point location “doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s where the cruise ships anchor all year anyway, but they don’t want that location,” Villarreal said. “That kind of tells us a story right there.”

Approving the Huna Totem location now would result in 35 new jobs in Hoonah, an expected increase of $96,000 in sales tax revenue for the city and about $1.6 million in additional cruise ship passenger spending, according to a McDowell Group study cited in the proposal.

Still, geotechnical surveys have indicated the city’s desired location — Shaman Point — to be the better option, and the city’s need for a multipurpose dock that could be used for freight and other off-season needs hasn’t gone away, Villarreal said.

“They’re firm on their location,” he said. “And we still stand firm on (the city location). “It’s going to be a while before this thing is resolved.”

• 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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