Review of dock expansion to begin

Cruise industry warns city to exercise caution with capital projects

Posted: Friday, August 14, 2009

The cruise industry is warning the city not to get too elaborate in its plans for the Port of Juneau as city officials begin review of a technical report for a possible expansion.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The report to be reviewed today shows that three different proposals to build new cruise ship docks would all help reduce the need to anchor vessels in the port, meaning fewer passengers will have to tender to shore.

That is a goal the city is trying to accomplish because passengers are more willing to get off ships and go to town when they can simply walk.

The port expansion would also increase the number of Panamax ships it can simultaneously accommodate.

All three development plans that were considered in the navigation study would do that, but a letter this spring from the North West Cruiseship Association indicates the industry might not support expansion.

The letter suggests Juneau "exercise extreme caution" with expenses related to capital projects because of challenges facing the industry.

Association President John Hansen cites changes in ship deployments for 2010 that will result in about 140,000 fewer passengers visiting Juneau next season.

Visitor levels are not expected to rebound any time soon, he wrote in the April 17 letter, adding, "... this it is not the time for expenditures related to expansion, unnecessary port improvements or to support studies for these types of initiatives."

Fees imposed on the industry would likely help pay for any expansion.

Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the city's Steamship Dock already needs major repairs. Looking at the entire picture - adding capacity for larger ships and improving the seawalk for locals and visitors - makes sense, he said.

"We have to look at all this and make sure we do it right," he said.

The current dock not only has structural problems, but it is too short for two Panamax ships to moor there at the same time. The city wants to angle the Steamship berth away from shore and make it longer to allow one more Panamax ship to moor in the port.

Two additional locations being considered for new docks are at Gold Creek and in front of the Merchants Wharf. They are proposed by private entities.

If it moves forward as a capital project, the Juneau Assembly will decide which location to develop.

The navigation study used a simulator at the Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle to evaluate ship moorings that would occur under the three development plans.

The simulator considered different-sized ships under various weather conditions, since wind is the main safety factor for moorings in the port.

The moorings were evaluated by the Southeast Alaska Pilots Association and cruise line representatives from Holland America and Princess.

The study was released in June, but many involved in port development said today would be their first chance to really dig into the report.

The simulator revealed that ships can safely moor in the port under all of the proposed dock configurations, but things get dicey in strong winds. Details include:

• The Steamship Dock built further offshore would reduce maneuvering room for vessels making approaches to the Franklin Dock located to the south. This is made more difficult in strong winds.

• The Merchants Wharf dock would make it harder to use the Steamship Dock and the U.S. Coast Guard dock to the north. A dock extending into the port rather than parallel to shore might require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dock would prevent float plane operations from continuing in their current location.

• The Gold Creek dock would be the most challenging during high wind conditions that occur about 5 percent of the time. Tidal currents are strongest in this area of the port. While presenting the greatest navigational challenges, this dock would have the least impact on other port operations.

The navigation study will be discussed at 2:30 p.m. today at City Hall.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquisat 523-2279 or e-mail

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