Public dock access

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

Sept. 11 has changed how we live and travel in North America, especially in matters of personal and community safety. Alaska has many concerns over the adequate protection of airports and the Trans-Alaska pipeline. State newspapers recently reported the possible closure of the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay to tourists and the general public, allowing access only by authorized freight haulers.

In Juneau, there is great concern that downtown waterfront access may be limited to cruiseships and their passengers, excluding local residents and other summer visitors. With the city parking garage, public library and private businesses built adjacent to the public dock, chain-link fencing along the entire dock frontage may be the only feasible recourse should the Coast Guard determine that high levels of security are required to keep non-passengers from the cruiseship area.

However, Juneau's public dock is quickly losing its usefulness to the cruise industry as the new, super-ships all reach 900 feet in length. Two ships this size presently find it difficult or impossible to tie-up here with an adequate "comfort zone" between them. Consequently, it is time for the cruise industry to construct a large, secure terminal in Juneau, perhaps to accommodate four ships. A new terminal would not only allow full berth space and gated security for the super-ships, it would also be built to handle any problems of passenger transfer. This winter of 2001-02 is the ideal time for the N.W. Cruiseship Association to consider the location and financing of a secure and properly sized terminal in Juneau.

I support such a new cruiseship terminal, whether in downtown, the backside of Douglas or Auke Bay. Satisfying the requirements for security and longer dock space by new terminal construction would be a win-win situation for the cruise industry and the Juneau public, as then we would not be excluded from public docks and the waterfront.

Further, I do not believe that the ownership of a new terminal will be an issue. If the cruise industry chooses to work with private land owners, as Princess Lines already has at the Franklin Dock, that certainly is their call. But should they choose to have the Juneau Docks and Harbors Department construct and operate the facility on public land, there probably would be a multi-year delay before pilings are driven.

I hope that formal discussions can begin immediately to prepare for the expected U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements and the need for longer docks. It is my firm belief that the Coast Guard will require tight security around cruiseship docks next summer in Alaska, and it is best that the industry has a viable, alternative plan other than fencing off Juneau's waterfront.

Chip Thoma


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