A section of safety rail ends into a bull rail along the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

A section of safety rail ends into a bull rail along the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Dock and Harbors moves forward with proposed $2M installation of Seawalk safety railings

Safety concerns cited as reason for potential project.

The City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors board moved forward with a proposed project that — if approved by the Assembly — would mean a $2 million installation of about 1,300 feet of safety railings along the downtown cruise ship docks.

A memo outlining the board’s desire was approved by the board at its Thursday evening meeting 8-1, with members citing concerns the current lack of safety railings exposes the city to “unnecessary risks” and that the installation would provide a good public safety benefit.

A “no diving” sign is posted on the bull rail than runs along the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

A “no diving” sign is posted on the bull rail than runs along the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

“There is no justification to leave the Seawalk unprotected from potential pedestrian falls of 30+ feet into Juneau Harbor,” stated a memo that outlined the project.

The installation project is estimated to cost about $2 million, and will now head to the Assembly for further discussion and possible approval, according to CBJ Harbormaster Matthew Creswell.

Currently, the downtown Seawalk does have a portion of safety rails near Marine Park following the area’s recent renovation. However, the majority of the Seawalk only has a “bull rail” which is essentially a large piece of timber that runs down the front of the dock face. The new railing would allow people to lean on the top rail and watch the waterfront.

Visitors take a selfie on the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Visitors take a selfie on the downtown cruise ship docks in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

“As we experience more cruise passengers with greater concentration along the Seawalk, Board members are becoming more apprehensive that this is an exposure which should be mitigated soonest,” the memo stated. “There is also a bona fide need to protect Juneauites who frequent the docks at all hours and during the off-season when weather is less forgiving.”

According to Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge, CCFR only responds to about three to four incidents of people either jumping off the Seawalk or accidentally falling into the water each year. He said of those responses, about one actually requires a rescue effort.

He said more often than not the incidents involve youth intentionally jumping for “fun” or people who are inebriated that accidentally trip over the bull rail and fall in. He said jumping into the water is always considered dangerous.

“I think some type of safety device will keep some of the people out of the water, especially those accidental ones,” he said. “But for people that really want to jump in the water — where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

He pointed to a recent incident in mid-July when a person reportedly jumped off the Juneau-Douglas Bridge intentionally, which prompted a U.S. Coast Guard search.

According to Creswell, the actual completion of the project won’t likely be anytime soon. However, it’s possible that the construction of an initial phase could be completed before next year’s cruise ship season using $500,000 of the Dock Enterprise Fund Balance.

Board member Annette Smith was the sole board member who voted in opposition to the memo, arguing she saw the project as something that would restrict the Seawalk to public access, and the benefits outlined might not necessarily stop incidents from occurring.

“We can safety rail this all we want, but it’s not going to protect us against idiots,” she said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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