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The plan

It is abundantly clear — Ketchikan needs a plan.

City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen and the City Council welcomed the community to the Ted Ferry Civic Center this week to talk about Port of Ketchikan development.

About 150 people attended — only about 30 spoke — and the comments covered the waterfront from downtown to Ward Cove. A theme became prominent: Speakers want to preserve the authenticity of Ketchikan while not being overwhelmed by the passengers who arrive May through September aboard the cruise ships.

It’s unfortunate that the gathering had to occur this summer. It has been a trying couple of summers for locals, waiting out the downtown street and sidewalk project. With cruise ship passengers added to the mix of delays, detours, irregular surfaces and increased traffic on the alternative Third Avenue Bypass route through town, the circumstances didn’t lend well for setting the gathering’s mood. It was heard more than once: “Enough is enough.”

But, nevertheless, the City Council listened respectfully.

And the tone displayed reinforced the need for the council to respond to the effect of the cruise ships on the city — particularly downtown.

The cruise lines are building larger ships; those ships with a capacity of over 3,000, 4,000 or more passengers are beginning to call. Both the dock and the uplands need to be modified to handle the traffic.

One immediate action is the removal of a rock pinnacle off of Berth 2, which has been in the planning stage for some time. A bid for the removal is expected to be let by late July, and it is anticipated the rock would be removed by next spring.

Another step is a presentation July 10 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center to the council by Bermello Ajamil & Partners, a Florida-based firm experienced in maritime engineering, planning, design and building.

Bermello Ajamil has completed its market analysis and strategy proposal for the city, confirming that Ketchikan’s cruise industry could grow to as many as 1.7 million cruise ship passengers annually over the next decade. The size of the ships being built are larger, as well, and the industry is in a building spurt over the next several years.

Given that, the number of cruise ship passengers coming to Ketchikan on a daily basis might have to be determined through scheduling of ships.

Following the July meeting, the next step would be to issue a request for proposals. Both port and uplands work will be necessary if Ketchikan is to meet the demand of the cruise industry.

In recent years, the cost estimate for work has risen to $150 million, a number that’s given the city more than pause. The way of the future is public/private partnerships to pay for such projects.

Norwegian Cruise Lines had been interested in such an agreement with the city. But it instead reportedly signed a pact with Ward Cove Dock Group, a private enterprise, to participate in building two berths and remodel an old Ketchikan Pulp Mill structure to accommodate the cruise line’s ships, which presently account for about 225,000 passengers, about eight miles north of downtown.

That announcement required the city, which had expected it eventually would need six berths to accommodate the cruise ship growth, to regroup briefly and consider its next step.

That step will be the meeting in July. If the council gives a green light following Bermello Ajamil’s presentation, a request for proposals is likely by fall.

The RFP would outline improvements to one or all three city owned berths. The fourth downtown berth is privately owned.

This week the city asked for the public’s input regarding its concerns, needs and expectations in relation to the cruise industry as it pertains to Ketchikan.

Comments covered the gamut. In the end, it was apparent the industry is changing and Ketchikan can either plan for it and maintain control or it can let it develop willy nilly, increasing congestion and with it local frustration.

It’s clear Ketchikan needs a plan in addition to RFP proposals for the port. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough will be conducting a borough-wide tourism plan.

Citizens who spoke at this week’s forum clearly value the authenticity of the community, and it is what visitors come to see. The town also is maxed out with congestion. But, as one speaker pointed out, Ketchikan extends beyond the downtown.

A firm with the experience of Bermello Ajamil should be able to guide the city through port challenges. Side by side, the borough’s effort — endorsed by the city — to develop a plan for tourism is imperative to ensure Ketchikan remains both a home for locals and a popular tourist destination.