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City moves ahead with $50 million dock plan

Cruise ship berthing fees are expected to fund improvements

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Juneau leaders on Monday continued to move forward with plans for a $50 million cruise ship dock improvement plan that would allow two modern ships to dock at the same time by 2010.

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To do that, Port Director John Stone said some fees will increase dramatically.

And as cruise ship companies will receive more dock space, Juneau residents may get back their public dock, Stone reported to the Juneau Assembly, which met Monday in a work session.

The city's Docks and Harbors Board is proposing construction of a floating berth in front of the current cruise ship dock that would accommodate two big ships.

Stone described the new berth as "like a big barge, that goes up and down with the tide." That would allow for a consistent height relative to the ships, which the companies like.

"That works best from the cruise ships' point of view," Stone said.

Currently, the Juneau cruise ship dock can only accommodate one Panamax ship, the industry standard based on what can transit the Panama Canal, and one smaller ship.

Stone said the board wants to build a floating berth, essentially two barges anchored to pilings. A ramp to the barge could allow a tractor trailer or tour bus to drive up to the ship.

Moving the ship away from the pier provides a security benefit as well.

"The Coast Guard likes this approach because what it does is to remove the ships from alongside the docks," Stone said.

The public already has been moved away from the cruise ship docks, and the security zone may eventually take up all of the public dock, he said.

The floating pier would allow the public back up to the water, he said.

"This returns public access to the dock," Stone said. "The pressure from the Coast Guard over time is to move the divider toward land, eventually taking over the whole dock."

The floating dock also allows room for the Storis, the retired Coast Guard cutter now being sought for a maritime museum, he said.

Use of the city dock now costs a ship 5.5 cents per ton to dock, but paying for the new improvements will boost that to 30 cents a ton. Other fees will change, however, including some going down. As an example, Stone said that means the new 1,868-passenger, 951-foot cruise ship Zuiderdam, which now costs $20,394 to dock in Juneau, would cost $28,233 in 2010.

"It's an expensive project," Stone acknowledged, but he said the cruise ship industry wanted the additional access to Juneau.

City Finance Director Craig Duncan said the city plans to use 30-year bonds to pay for the improvements.

"If we are going to grow and provide two Panamax berths, how are we going to fund it," he said.

The city has been working with the regional cruise ship industry association to make sure the plans meet with their needs.

A local ship pilot has even taken the city's plans to Florida and put them in a cruise ship simulator to make sure vessels at the new pier and at neighboring docks will be able to maneuver in various wind conditions. Of special concern is not blocking access to Taku Smokeries or the seaplane floats to the north.

Stone said he wanted to issue a contract for design work later this month at the Docks and Harbors Board and then bring it to the Assembly soon after.

He estimated that the design work would cost between $1 million and $1.2 million, though the scope of the work is still being negotiated with a previously selected firm.

The plan, he said, is for the first ship arriving in May 2010 to use the new facility.

"That's going to require us to move along at a pretty good clip," he said.''

• Contact Pat Forgey at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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