The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted to approve a motion allowing the city manager to start negotiations with Norwegian Cruise line over access to city-owned tidelands. City Manager Rorie Watt told Assembly members Monday night as the property owners the city’s approval would allow the company’s application process to begin.
The motion passed the Assembly unanimously, though some members expressed reservations.
“It’s not a motion to support a project specifically or conceptually,” said City Manager Rorie Watt at the meeting. “It would allow me to tell NCL to apply for permits which would trigger the public process.”
In order to build a proposed cruise ship dock on Egan Drive, NCL will have to access city and state-owned lands, and Watt said the application process will make the company’s proposals open for presentation and discussion before the assembly. Watt told the Empire in a phone interview Tuesday NCL needed the approval of the property owner —in this case the city —before it could file its application.
Assembly member Loren Jones noted some of the lands the company needs to build on are state-owned and asked if it was possible for the city to move forward on the project only to have the state deny essential permits later. Watt said there was a process for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to convey state tidelands to local municipalities for economic benefit and that the city had recently received word that a similar transfer had been approved.
Two people called in to give public comment, one in support and one against. Urging the assembly not to approve the motion was Karla Hart, a Juneau resident involved in efforts to limit cruise ship tourism in Juneau. Hart said the city wasn’t going through the proper public process and the construction of the dock wouldn’t be in the community’s best interests.
“A simple ‘No’ is the appropriate answer and this time,” Hart told the assembly during the public comment period.
Calling in support of the project was Bob Janes, owner and operator the Gastineau Guiding Company which is dependent on summer tourism. Janes said the failure of a recent ballot initiative aimed at limiting cruise ships in Juneau showed the broader community supported cruise tourism.
“(Cruise tourism) does serve the community,” Janes said. “It serves me and my family, it serves many many people I know,”
Both Janes and Assembly member Wade Bryson pointed to city’s tourism management programs as effective avenues for residents to voice their concerns with the tourism industry. Bryson said the city had limited the number of ships allowed in the Juneau harbor after hearing complaints through the programs.
The motion ultimately passed but only after Assemblymember Michelle Bonnet Hale raised an objection voicing her concerns on the process. The process had moved quickly, Hart said, and the city had been working closely with NCL. Hale said she was concerned that once the process begins it wouldn’t be able to stop.
Watt said the application would need to be heard before the planning commission and the CBJ Assembly before any further action could be taken on the project. Having the application submitted would allow assembly members to review the details of the proposal, Watt said.
Hale removed her objection but said she wasn’t sure she had the level of comfort needed.
Watt told the Empire he wasn’t sure what the exact process would be going forward, but the application would be the next step.
“The moment they submit anything it’ll be a public document,” Watt said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.