Classifieds | Place a class ad | PDF Edition | Home Delivery
By MARY STEPHENSON
The leisure sport fishermen have enjoyed easier access to fishing grounds around Mountain Point ever since the breakwater and boat facility was built; and managed the usage through the City of Ketchikan’s Port and Harbors.
Wherever there is wildlife (big selling point in marketing material) there will be houseguests. The outdoor enthusiasts have co-existed; boat-trailers mingling with various size vans-motor coaches in the dirt parking lot.
Until last summer, when the City of Ketchikan restricted tour operators from using the parking lot as a wildlife viewing area.
To find a reason to restrict, allegedly, over the past few years several fishermen complained residents and visitors impeded a boat launch, climbed the breakwater, and parked buses limiting their parking spaces.
During winter public vetting, the tour operators showed willingness to work with neighbors in designing a layout so both trailers and buses could use the lot during peak hours; and if money was an issue, owners were willing to pay-to-play per use as the fishermen were doing. The reason for the city’s refusal to reach an amicable solution was learned six months later in July 27, 2018 letters.
In a rush to get the restricted amendment added in the 2018 Port and Harbors three-year, multi-million dollar Dock Vendor contract, the city’s actions were deceitful.
An opportunity for fair-trade competition with cruise ships, the contract is a financial commitment for the six largest independent tour operators; however, the last minute addendum instilled a fear of retribution. Within a month, the port director admonished two companies, threatening suspension or loss of contract after a driver forgot and made a stop. The remaining 11 tour operators, who also had city permits, were not formerly restricted because no mechanism was in place, other than the vendor contract, to issue penalties. They quietly continued to stop.
Tour guides are the ambassadors of Ketchikan; they must remain positive and should not be put into the position of being the villain. Wildlife visible from the bus and van parked in the lot below, paying customers don’t like the word “can’t.” People who paid money to see wildlife don’t care about partisan politics. This will have repercussions.
After pushing for accountability, City of Ketchikan and Gateway Borough officials wrote letters to me on July 27, 2018 for the record: Since 1990, the city leases the tidelands parcel from the Borough; city owns the Boat Launch Facility: breakwater and floats; and manage through Port and Harbors. Both citing they cannot mediate a win-win solution for the multi-purpose parking lot because by 1992 Alaska Mental Health Land Trust owned the parking lot, parcel 3-D1. Say what – repeat that again!
If the ownership of Mountain Point is between three parties and the city cannot show approval was obtained from AMHLT to enforce restrictions, then the process was illegal. Did the City Council know AMHLT owned the parking before voting “yes?” Shameful if true.
I say to the current administration — you cannot restrict that (parking lot) which you do not own. Please justify.
It is doubtful AMHLT will put the parcel up for public sale; we suspect the city is eager to shore up its investment and protect the egress to the boat facility. Taxpayers have rights to access their public land.
As the city hoards the tourism revenues and begins to restrict public access in borough jurisdiction, there is a problem. An island with a 40-mile road system, the majority of sightseeing opportunities happens with air, land, and sea businesses outside the city limits. Land tours invest in wildlife venues on South Tongass; Mountain Point and Herring Cove’s main attraction is wildlife.
Here is where the Third Party collides: Last week the City Council and residents were given a presentation by an architecture and engineering firm hired to assess future port developments; heeding the suggestion to prepare up to five berths capable of handling vessels up to 1,200 feet in length, and projecting 1.5 million visitors within a decade. Cruise ship consortium, come hell or high water, intend to build bigger, carry more while forecasting infrastructure (docks and beyond) expenditures in apocalyptic portions by Ketchikan’s modest standards.
When the cruise ship industry gets wise of the discrimination, pressure on the city to open Mountain Point for all their guests, the city will look for partners to share costs for a viewing deck, safe walkways and paved parking lot. In 2018, the City Council restricted the patrons who generate the revenue that feed it!
Rescind the Mountain Point restrictions and restore tourism is first priority for 2019 season. Install multi-lingual directional signage warnings of hazards. Do Not Enter or Park (sign) will get the visitor’s attention. Directional signage on duty 24/7 has greater affect toward civility, according to tourism studies. Negotiate a parking solution and a pay-to-play system equitable to everyone. Ask us to be the committee!
Next priority — establish a Tourism Commission to oversee the city air, land and sea investments in the next 20 years and rebuild the trust lacking in today’s administration.
Mary L. Stephenson is a five-year resident of Ketchikan, and a tour guide for 30 years. She is an employee, not employer, and writes that “no retribution can come to her for delivering the message from the employers who seek better judgment within the administration.”