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The port isn’t all about cruise ships.
The City of Ketchikan is discussing how to expand and upgrade its port and uplands, as well as how the community can handle the impact of increasing cruise ship visitor numbers.
The City Council met with its advisor, Luis Ajamil of the architecture and engineering firm Bermello, Ajamil & Partners, mid-week.
Following the meeting — after Ajamil’s presentation and public comment — the council gave City Manager Karl Amylon the green light to move forward with a request for proposals, a draft of which had been given to the city just this week.
Amylon recommended keeping the RFP flexible enough to allow all ideas, even ones that the council might not be anticipating.
Regardless of whichever response to the RFP the council would agree upon, if any, a negotiating process would result before the signing of any agreement.
Ajamil is expected to finalize the RFP for the council, contact potential responders while defining the final draft, and present the final to the city soon.
Once the RFP is issued, the council would expect responses within 60 days.
Basically, the council has two choices in the process at this point.
The first is called a concession option in which an entity partners with the city to expand the docks for the incoming larger cruise ships and address upland issues at its own risk and expense. It would manage the city’s three berths. The partner would be looking at $35 million for investment in the city, as well as another $50 to $100 million in dock and upland upgrades. In exchange, it would get a 20-year contract with an option for 10 more years. The city would maintain ownership of the dock. The community would be able to use the dock within the law when cruise ships weren’t in port. The partner would be required to protect the air, sea and land environment, in addition to the quality of life for locals in the downtown and locals coming into the city. An example would be dealing with congestion created by the presence of cruise ships, including bus systems.
The second option — called preferential — gives the city more control, but also more risk. The city would make berth assignments or contract the responsibility out. It would make all of the improvements, although, in exchange for preferential berthing rights, a partner would make a financial investment in city facilities. The agreement would be the same 20/10-year time frame as the concession. The council would look at agreements for berth 1, berths 1 and 2 together, and berths 1, 2 and 3 as a package.
Ajamil has pointed out that it doesn’t make financial sense to extend Berth 1 if the Ward Cove Dock Group’s two-berth dock is built and accepting ships by next summer. That would take a quarter of the anticipated cruise ship passengers for the season off the city berths, reducing berthing demand. But, he says, other ships would come in and fill that gap over time.
The Ward Cove Dock Group appears to be cruising full-steam ahead, but not without challenges of its own, such as how to move thousands of passengers who want to see Ketchikan into the city. The group cites repeating the Sitka model, which operates buses throughout a cruise-ship day. But it also is considering combining buses with a boat(s) that would ferry passengers to a downtown dock.
The city would like a partner with financial capital to invest, one way or the other. It wants to capitalize on the port’s full potential for the economy, but not to the exclusion of quality of life factors for local citizens. Access to the port for locals is critical. As is addressing transportation issues in a confined space at the port, effects on the environment, and future maintenance and development of the port and uplands.
The city’s RFP will be looser than others offered in the industry, which indicates the city is open to ideas.
This is one the biggest decisions any council has had to make in the past three decades at least.
It requires balancing the economy and its growth with financial wellbeing and quality of life for all Ketchikan citizens. Plus, it’s imperative to please the passenger here, or Ketchikan will be left in the waves.
And if that isn’t enough. Cruise ships might not be the only potential partnerships in regard to the berths. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan and City Mayor Bob Sivertsen both mentioned eventual arrangements with the U.S. Navy and other Arctic service vessels. While nothing is as near as the cruise ship issue, other opportunities might be in the queue.
The cruise ship presence is on the rise here. But, as Ketchikan has seen with other industries, and it likely holds true with cruise lines, too, industry rises and falls. It changes.
The community should diversify its waterfront and its economy as much as possible. Through its history, that approach has been its saving grace.
The port isn’t about only one industry or one point of view; all should be well considered.
It’s evident the council is striving to do that, and the community is engaged. The stakes are high. Ketchikan’s future is on the horizon.