In a tie vote, Juneau's Assembly on Monday turned down a proposal to dredge the North Steamship Wharf area across from Marine Park, but the issue will come back for reconsideration.
The site has been scheduled and permitted for dredging for two years and City Port Director Joe Graham said the material will be used to upgrade Savikko Road as part of the Douglas Harbor expansion project.
Graham told the Assembly that dredging 2,700 cubic yards of sediment will give cruise ships more room to maneuver and allow ships to moor at the wharf during minus tides.
"It doesn't give any more linear footage of space. It does give more time during the tide to moor," he said.
The project will not provide room for the next generation of cruise ships, which reach 960 feet, to tie up in Juneau, Graham said. Dredging may allow some of Juneau's larger ships, such as those that are 910 feet, to move from dock areas farther down Gastineau Channel to the North Steamship Wharf, although limits on bus staging exist, he said.
The ordinance would appropriate $500,000 in port dues for the project.
During public testimony, cruise critic Dennis Harris said the city should wait for the results of its long-range tourism plan before dredging.
"We do not have to do what the industry wants," he said.
Bed-and-breakfast owner Judy Crondahl suggested the city use the $500,000 to fill in the wharf area to reduce the number of visiting cruise ships.
"Let's ask the questions and get answers before we spend more money," she said.
Kirby Day of Princess Cruises and Tours in Alaska said the tourism plan shouldn't drive a dredging project that has been in the works for about five years. Dredging will improve safety, he said.
"Currently when you have two large vessels at city dock, there are times when you only have 20 or 25 feet between them. That's uncomfortable for the captains. If we can gain another 30 feet, it makes it a lot safer," he said.
Assembly member Dale Anderson said he was concerned about delaying the project. Moving the material to Douglas would save money, he said.
"It's not a tourism issue. It's a (capital improvement project) issue and it's a safety issue," he said.
A move to send the issue to the Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee failed on a 3-3 vote, with Assembly member Jim Powell abstaining because of a conflict with his job at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. A vote to approve the project also failed in a tie, with Anderson, Don Etheridge and Ken Koelsch voting yes. Frankie Pillifant, Marc Wheeler and Sally Smith voted no. John MacKinnon and Cathy Muoz were absent.
Etheridge moved to reconsider the issue at the Assembly's next meeting. He said the project has been approved by the city's Docks and Harbors Board and is a priority of the harbor department.
"This is not to increase tourism, this is not to change tourism, it's only to deepen the water under ships," he said. "It's for the safety of ships so they're not grounding."
Wheeler said there was time to send the issue to a committee for additional discussion.
"It doesn't hurt to have a little more public process on something that could affect the number of passengers using the port," he said.
The sediment is contaminated by hydrocarbons from upland roadside runoff. When the material is placed in Douglas, the city will contain and cap it to comply with state regulations, Graham said. Moving the material to Douglas will be cheaper than "cooking" it at the United Soil Recycling site, a Juneau business that processes contaminated soil, he said.
The road upgrade could be finished to a rough stage this winter.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.