Increased cruise ship tourism means Southeast Alaska’s waters are busier than they’ve ever been, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Steve White.
During a meeting of the City and Borough of Juneau Visitor Industry Task Force meeting Tuesday, White told members of the task force what that means for the Coast Guard in Sector Juneau and its authority in the Port of Juneau.
“One of the things we’re always thinking about is what do we need to be focused on, and what could happen,” White said. “We break it down into two pots — response and prevention — in the way we’re organized.”
Those responsibilities include monitoring or directing responses to oil or hazardous materials spills, addressing security concerns, inspecting facilities and vessels, having the ability to stop traffic as Captain of the Port and coordinating search and rescue operations.
White said in the sector that stretches from Yakutat to the Canadian border, collaboration is important for those efforts, including search and rescues.
“The Coast Guard does not have enough resource to do all the search and rescue,” White said. “We’ve got a pretty good lay down, and we’ve got some very well-trained professionals to go out there, but there’s no way we could cover that area the size of Florida without the help of other agencies.”
After his brief presentation, White was asked about the role the Coast Guard plays in managing Juneau’s cruise ship anchorages — areas designated by the Captain of Port for cruise ships to anchor in — and what role the Coast Guard might play in the construction of a new cruise ship dock.
Task force member Kirby Day, who is also the city’s Tourism Best Management Practices coordinator, asked White if CBJ could decide to close its anchorage and have not more ships at anchor.
“You could say that, and from an authority, I don’t know how you would enforce that,” White said. “With that the anchorage that’s there, the Coast Guard enforces that anchorage, and if we say it’s available for cruise ships, and cruise ships only, that’s the way the law is written. It’s managed by the Coast Guard and enforced by the Coast Guard.”
Day also asked if ships staying in one spot using dynamic positioning system are considered anchored.
White said vessels would be considered underway but staying in one place.
White said construction would require permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard would be asked for input regarding navigational impact of a project.
“We provide a risk assessment to the Army corps on that,” White said.
During a short interview before leaving the meeting, White said that process also includes public input and the amount of time it can take fluctuates.
“That process can go fast sometimes, or it can go quite slow,” he said.
Task force chair and CBJ Assembly member Carole Triem asked white if it would be possible for the Seawalk could go through Coast Guard property.
“I guess the answer to that is it depends,” White said. “We do have certain physical security requirements we have to maintain on the station. That doesn’t mean that something couldn’t be worked out.”
Public chance to comment
A pair of meetings explicitly for public comment are scheduled for the near future.
The first meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Assembly Chambers. The second meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m., Thursday Jan. 16.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt