KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Will Ketchikan welcome its first cruise ship on June 22?
The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday is scheduled to discuss a request by American Cruise Lines to dock its ship American Constellation in Ketchikan on June 22 and June 23.
Small cruise ships such as the 170-passenger American Constellation are not restricted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's current no-sail order that bans cruise ship travel for vessels carrying more than 250 passengers in U.S. waters through July 24, or until the CDC rescinds the order.
The restrictions are in place as part of the effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 7, the City Council directed city staff to reach out to companies that operate smaller, American-flagged vessels to develop acceptable COVID-19 response plans that potentially would allow Ketchikan to safely welcome those ships in the 2020 season.
In addition, Southeast Alaska communities have been working with the Alaska Municipal League toward establishing a regional approach that would develop a common baseline for operations and allow local governments to determine further restrictions if necessary, according to a memo by AML Executive Director Nils Andreassen that’s included in the council meeting agenda materials.
American Cruise Lines’s docking request to the city includes a detailed document outlining its updated protocols to protect against COVID-19.
In a memo included in the agenda materials, City of Ketchikan Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon compared the cruise line’s plans with some of the guidelines discussed by the City Council on May 7 and that are expected to be included in cruise line operating plans.
Those guidelines include enhanced screening and testing before boarding, enhanced cleaning procedures, additional medical personnel and materials, leaving every other cabin vacant for social distancing and additional capacity for isolation if necessary, enhanced coordination between cruise operators and communities on health care capacity, and wearing of cloth masks when persons from the vessel are in communities for shopping and tours, according to Corporon.
The cruise line's pre-travel and pre-boarding protocols “appear to be acceptable,” Corporon wrote. Although the company’s plans state only that testing would be available, the company indicates that it’s working with Vikand Medical Consultants on developing pre-cruise testing for passengers and crew.
“They expected to have more clarity towards the end of May,” Corporon wrote.
Corporon also wrote that the company’s enhanced on-board cleaning and disinfecting procedures seemed acceptable, as is the cruise line’s plan to have a nurse and/or emergency medical technician on board to meet the protocol of having additional medical personnel and materials on board.
To accomplish social distancing on board, as well as to provide space for isolation if necessary, ACL’s plan proposes a 25% reduction in guest capacity and a 50% reduction in dining room capacity, as well as the dedication of 5% of staterooms as isolation rooms; and 10% of guest staterooms as crew rooms.
Corporon noted that the American Constellation has a normal guest capacity of 170 passengers, which would be reduced to about 130 passengers under the company’s proposal. The normal crew capacity is 40.
Public restrooms would be closed on the ship. ACL also noted that guest rooms are located on the exterior of the vessel, featuring independent HVAC systems with no ductwork or recirculated air between rooms.
Corporon noted that American Cruise Line's plan did not address “enhanced coordination between cruise operators and local communities regarding health care capacity,” or the “wearing of cloth masks whenever persons are off the vessel in local communities for shopping, tours, etc.”
Corporon wrote that ACL representatives expressed willingness to collaborate with the city on more development of the plan. They also would be requiring passengers and crew members to wear masks and comply with local and Alaska ordinances regarding social distancing.
“Overall,” Corporon summarized, “I believe their plan is a good start with more details to be identified and developed.”
He identified two areas in which the cruise company’s criteria does not match those created by the Southeast Alaska municipal representatives: daily passenger testing and a financial commitment to the quarantine and transfer of sick passengers.
The ability of ACL to disembark passengers in Southeast Alaska’s ports next month also is dependent on the State of Alaska allowing the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers to expire on the set date of June 2.
The American Constellation is set to arrive at the port of Ketchikan on June 22, June 30, July 14 and Sept. 10.
For its first proposed voyage, the ship would pick up passengers in Juneau on June 16 to embark on a one-week voyage with planned stops in several Southeast Alaska ports, including Haines, Icy Bay, Wrangell and Ketchikan. The passengers then would disembark back in Juneau.
Regarding larger cruise ships, the City Council on May 7 directed city staff to reach out to Southeast Alaska port communities to assess interest by leaders in those cities to collaboratively create criteria under which ships would be allowed to resume Southeast Alaska itineraries.
According to a memo to the council by City Manager Karl Amylon, he and Ketchikan Assistant City Manager Lacey Simpson discussed the issue by teleconference on May 13 with representatives of Juneau and Skagway, and found that all participants were interested in creating a list of criteria. A second meeting was scheduled for Wednesday.
A meeting with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough manager and borough attorney also has been scheduled to assess borough interest in participating in the discussions, and to discuss whether the borough has the statutory authority to establish and enforce any protocols chosen, according to Amylon.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the council will consider a proposed transfer of $110,000 from the appropriated reserves of the Port Enterprise Fund to the Berth III New Mooring Dolphin & Bollards capital account for development of the 100% design documents for Berth III.
The improvements to that berth will enable the city to allow the larger “neopanamax” cruise ships to safely dock. Although those ships aren’t significantly longer than the average cruise ship — the average-sized Disney Wonder, for instance, is 965 feet long and the neopanamax ship Norwegian Joy is 1,070-feet long — the neopanamax ships are dramatically larger overall.
According to the companies’ information, the Disney Wonder’s gross tonnage is 83,308 tons and the Norwegian Joy’s is 167,400. Gross tonnage, according to information at www.cruisemapper.com, is based on the volume of all the ship’s enclosed spaces.
At the March 5 City Council meeting, Amylon explained to council members that although the Ward Cove Dock Group is completing berths specifically designed to hold the larger ships at Ward Cove, the city should work to improve its facilities so that they also will safely hold those vessels.
He asserted that future sales tax revenue will potentially be lost if the city is not proactive in building the proper infrastructure to welcome vessels of any size.
Other new business items planned for Thursday's City Council meeting include:
● An update on the Ketchikan Public Library’s strategic plan, which was begun in 2018.
● The award of a contract to BAM LLC to replace deteriorated wooden sections of the downtown salmon ladder with concrete as part of the “Salmon Walk” project.
● The approval of the city’s participation in allowing the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank to refinance loans taken out for library construction and the Whitman Lake Hydroelectric Project in order to take advantage of lower interest rates.
The regular Ketchikan City Council meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Thursday. The meeting will be conducted via WebEx videoconference due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting can be viewed live via the KPU and GCI cable television services, as well as on the City of Ketchikan website at http://www.ktn-ak.us/current-agendas-and-minutes.
Individuals who would like to provide public comment telephonically during the meeting should contact the Ketchikan city clerk’s office by phone at 228-5658 by 4 p.m. Thursday. There is a three-minute limit on telephonic comments.
Individuals interested in providing written comments can do so via email, sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. Thursday. Written comments can be requested to be read at the meeting or to be “put on the table” for the City Council members, according to Ketchikan City Clerk Kim Stanker.
Daily News staff writers Danelle Landis and Scott Bowlen contributed to this story.