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2018 cruise ship schedule discussed at meeting: Season set to start on May 3; more than 1 million passengers anticipated

Daily News Staff Writer

About 30 members of the public, including tourism and local business representatives, attended a meeting previewing Ketchikan’s 2018 cruise season on Thursday.

Department of Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon hosted the meeting. It included a presentation on the latest port-related news and a Q&A session.

Corporon presented a draft of the 2018 cruise ship calendar, which he prepared with Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska.

The season is set to run from May 3 to Sept. 29, with the first ship arriving and the last ship departing on those dates.

Notable new arrivals to the Alaska market for 2018 include the Golden Princess, the Westerdam, the Crystal Symphony and the Norwegian Bliss. The Oosterdam and the Norwegian Sun are leaving the market.

Port and Harbors predicts a passenger distribution of 23.4 percent at Berth 1, 22.3 percent at Berth 2, 30.5 percent at Berth 3, and 23.8 percent at Berth 4.

Corporon said Thursday that he would have preferred a more uniform passenger distribution, but that it wasn’t possible due to space limitations in the water. Not all ships fit at all berths, and ensuring space for multiple larger ships at once can be a puzzle.

“We went through and tried to level things out a little bit,” he said. “We just physically couldn’t get it any better than we have now.”

Though some berths will get a smaller relative slice, Corporon anticipates a larger pie overall. He predicts a total passenger count of just over 1,020,000 — an increase of about 13,000 over 2017’s record-breaking count.

Weekly crowds at the season’s peak are expected to be similar to recent years, with Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays being busiest, and the remaining four days following close behind.

The meeting also included information regarding Berths 1 and 2 expansion projects, upland planning, changes to the dock vendor program, winter construction and maintenance, and the rock pinnacle removal project.

The Berths 1 and 2 in-water expansion project is now targeted for 2020. Corporon said Thursday that 2019 “just wasn’t feasible,” and will discuss the matter with the Ketchikan City Council in its Dec. 21 meeting. A public work session has been scheduled with infrastructure firm Moffatt & Nichol for Feb. 14.

A separate public work session with the firm, regarding upland planning, is set for Jan. 21. It will likely consist of an afternoon and evening session. More information is forthcoming.

Dock vendors were another major point of discussion Thursday. The City Council has approved changes to the dock vendor program, which allows tourism businesses to operate booths along the port. Berth 2’s two booths will move to Berths 1 and 3, and Berth 1’s booths will move around the corner by the existing storage shed and gazebo. Changes to rules regarding where the booth operators can stand are anticipated but have not been finalized.

For the first time in six years, Port and Harbors has solicited bids for the operation of each of the six booths. They received eight bids — the top six came from last year’s six vendors. Corporon will present their proposed contracts for City Council approval at the Dec. 21 council meeting.

Turnagain Marine, an Anchorage-based heavy marine construction company, has been contracted to perform improvements on Berth 3 this winter. It will remove and modify the transfer bridge, which includes installing additional pedestrian handrails in the vehicle lane. The bridge will be recoated as well.

Vigor Industrial will overhaul the Berth 3 barge this winter in a process expected to last a couple of months. Berth 4’s owners are overhauling their barge in January.

Corporon also said Thursday that he has received rock samples from the underwater pinnacle near Berth 2. The formation is a potential hazard for larger cruise ships. Moffat & Nichol is drafting a summary of the sample and cost estimates for its removal to take to the City Council for the first meeting in January. Corporon said he hopes it can be hydraulically fractured rather than blown up. He hopes to have it removed next winter.

The draft 2018 cruise ship calendar is available online at www.ktn-ak.us/port.