Empire editorial: Ferries at Cascade Point are a bad idea

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

T he state's announcement last week that it may buy two new day boats for the Juneau-Haines-Skagway circuit is good news. But building a new terminal for these ferries at Cascade Point makes no sense.

Robin Taylor, director of marine transportation, has pitched a plan that would launch these boats more than 40 miles out of town at Cascade Point in Berners Bay. The plan is inconvenient for travelers, dangerous for the small-boat traffic in the area and potentially harmful to a bay that fosters vast populations of fish that feed scores of other species in the region.

Almost half the spring and summer traffic on state ferries is from walk-on passengers. It makes little sense to build a terminal that creates more hassle and cost for these travelers who have to find a way into and out of town. State officials may hope that a reasonably priced shuttle service will emerge from the private sector to address this need, but if it doesn't, ferry travel has just been made that much more difficult.

At a time when the state is supposedly trying to save money, there's no point in adding another capital expense to the state budget with a new ferry terminal, especially when a more convenient one already exists at Auke Bay.

A new terminal at Cascade Point also would put state ferries in the middle of small-boat traffic that launches out of Echo Cove. Berners Bay is a major draw for skiffs and kayaks in the summertime and these will intersect with the path of the ferry. The state vessels should stick to Lynn Canal rather than going into a bay that's heavily used by small recreational boaters.

A Cascade Point terminal would send ferries through an important spring feeding ground for humpback whales, orcas and Steller sea lions. The point is near a spawning area for herring and prime habitat for other fish.

Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, is trying to get permission to operate a small dock at Cascade Point to service the nearby Kensington Mine. But city and state permits for that dock are already loaded with a host of environmental restrictions. For instance, mine shuttles won't be able to travel to the point while herring are spawning. Similar restrictions on ferry service would be a major headache for marine highway officials and passengers alike.

The ferry has no need to go into Berners Bay to transport people between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Doing so will rack up expenses for the state, pose problems for travelers and threaten a bay that supports marine populations important to northern Southeast Alaska. The state should continue to consider adding two day boats to that area, but Cascade Point is the wrong place to tie up those ferries.

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