Voters give go-ahead to port renovation

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006

KETCHIKAN - After four years of effort, the city of Ketchikan has a port renovation project.

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City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the sale of up to $38.5 million in revenue bonds, voting 974-434 in support of a project that will include new cruise ship berth space in addition to a renovated Casey Moran Harbor, a waterfront promenade, new bathrooms and improved ground transportation areas.

City leaders and port boosters called it a nod to the tourism industry.

Voter turnout was 28 percent, with 1,408 of 5,759 registered voters casting ballots on election day.

That's 5 percent higher than the 23 percent turnout in August when city voters turned down a similar but larger bond issue for a larger cruise dock project by a final margin of 144 votes. In that election, 44.6 percent of the voters cast "Yes" ballots.

This time, according to the unofficial results, nearly 70 percent of voters supported the city's proposed project.

"Frankly, I'm gratified by the vote - and somewhat surprised by the magnitude, given the vote we had last August," said City Mayor Bob Weinstein.

The outcome of the election is "a very strong vote in favor of moving ahead with the future of Ketchikan," Weinstein said. "I've always said the port and other maritime resources like the shipyard are critical to Ketchikan's future and I think the voters have indicated that they're looking ahead to the future as well and that's what we need to do to have a healthy community of which we're all proud."

Voters saw that this was a smaller project than the one proposed in 2005, with $39.5 million in bonding rather than $70 million, he said. The city also had more time to get information out to the public about the project and its proposed funding source.

He credited the private-sector Ketchikan for a Positive Economy group for its informational campaign about the economic benefits that group members believe the project will bring to the wider community - not just the businesses directly involved with the cruise industry.

Dennis Pope and Zig Ziegler, co-chairmen of Ketchikan for a Positive Economy, were very pleased with the election outcome.

"With the first precinct coming in, I felt an immense sense of relief," Ziegler said.

The strong vote in favor of the project brought a feeling of gratification, he said.

"I think that it eliminates the doubt that many people might have (had) about the general feeling about the tourism industry," Ziegler said.

The vote indicates that the "vast amount" of voters believe the visitor industry is good for all of the community, he said.

With a positive outcome to the election, the city will move quickly on bonding and getting construction contracts signed toward completing most of the project in time for the 2007 cruise ship season.

The construction design should be done by this week, and the construction contract awarded by May 27, according to the city's draft application to the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority.

Physical work would start Aug. 15, and all work is expected to be substantially complete by Aug. 1, 2007.

The city plans to repay the revenue bonds with money from the city's Port Enterprise Fund, which includes revenues from the per-passenger wharfage fees paid by the cruise lines when their ships visit Ketchikan, and other port-related fees and charges.

Once completed, the project will provide berthing space for three 1,000-foot ships simultaneously downtown.

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