This article has been updated to clarify that Carla Casulucan’s testimony was given strictly in her capacity as a Juneau resident.
The city Assembly on Monday voted against an ordinance that would have allowed the city to spend $300,000 to help plan the location of a proposed cruise ship dock at the downtown subport.
After it was announced in August that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings had donated the waterfront property in Juneau that it purchased in 2019 for $20 million to Huna Totem Corp., the Alaska Native corporation has sought to get its proposed cruise ship dock and waterfront development into fruition.
At Monday night’s Assembly meeting, more than a dozen members of the public provided testimony mainly in opposition to the ordinance, and in a late-night decision after multiple failed motions and amendments, the ordinance was voted down by Juneau Assembly members Carole Triem, Waahlaal Giidaak Barbara Blake, Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Wade Bryson and Michelle Bonnet Hale.
They outnumbered Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski, Greg Smith and Mayor Beth Weldon who voted in favor of passing the ordinance. Assembly member Christine Woll was not present at the meeting.
According to the proposed master plan, the city’s involvement and the $300,000 appropriation from marine passenger fees would have gone toward funding preliminary engineering and planning consultation services through CBJ to “ensure competing interests are synchronized” and enable “CBJ decision makers to expand economic opportunities while balancing local priorities.”
Nearly all public comments — including from Huna Totem officials, project architects, private developers and Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce officials — said the city’s efforts would be redundant to the typical permitting process and delay Huna Totem’s project timeline. Many called it an overreach of private development.
“CBJ doing its own partial study of the port is duplicative to what the private developer is already doing,” said John Blasco, president of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce. He said he represents the chamber that collectively opposed the ordinance because it could delay the fiscal benefits that could be made from the development of the subport.
Carla Casulucan, a Juneau resident, shareholder relations manager for Huna Totem and past member of the CBJ Systemic Racism Review Committee Member, also offered testimony. Casulucan specified her testimony was strictly in her capacity as a resident of Juneau.
She said she supports the Huna Totem development and expressed disappointment toward city officials who she said have been critical or “wishy-washy” of the development and said she feels CBJ has placed a level of scrutiny on Alaska Native corporations’ development that goes beyond the other waterfront developments.
“Through 100% private investment this development stands to enhance the beauty of downtown and serve to complement the efforts of Sealaska and Alaska Heritage Institute to indigenize the true aesthetic of the Juneau area,” she said. “Your constant adversarial stance on this project with ‘do it my way or else’ tactics is just another variation of the systematic racism that has been pitted against us here.”
Each member of the Assembly spoke about the project which varied in support and opposition to the city planning. Hughes-Skandijs said it should be noted that the city’s goals and interests for the project and its timeline is going to be different from private developers regardless of the developer.
“It is our job to be concerned about the best and highest use of the city property and whether all the interests of everyone in the city is being represented — that is always going to be based on and coming from a different place than a private developer,” she said.
An initial motion to vote down the ordinance failed with an even split of votes among the Assembly members. Following the failed motion the Assembly voted on amendments, including making the study area smaller and requiring the new cruise ship dock planning to be done within three months, but ultimately the ordinance as a whole was voted down.
City Manager Rorie Watt told the Empire the decision is just another step in the public process. He emphasized that there is still much public process that needs to happen. That process, Watt said, includes approval by the Assembly and negotiations and an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard and possiblythe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before it can begin development. He said Huna Totem has submitted an application for a conditional use permit and the planning commission will likely review it this spring.
“Democracy is messy and trying to weigh conflicting interests isn’t easy, we joke that all the easy decisions have already been made,” he said. “My position was the public would have benefited from a broader perspective, and I think Huna Totems’ perspective was they wanted to propose a specific project and I think both opinions are equally valid.”
Huna Totem marketing director Mickey Richardson said in an interview he was pleased to see the amount of public and Assembly dialogue on the topic at the meeting and is excited to work with the city and public moving forward.
“There was just a lot of redundancy and it was clear it was going to increase in scale and slow down the process and we felt like we were already doing a lot of this work,” he said. “We will continue to engage with the city. The outcome allows us to continue the dialogue and engage in the process.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.