Nearly 200 additional Coast Guardsmen — and an icebreaker — as well as thousands of more tourists — and a cruise ship dock — could soon be coming to Juneau. The City Assembly will now consider how involved in those plans it wants to be.
A proposal spending up to $300,000 in Port Development Fees to help plan the location of an additional downtown cruise ship dock was unanimously approved Monday by Juneau Assembly members meeting as the Committee of the Whole. The effort may also include accommodating a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker tentatively slated to be homeported in the city.
The proposal will now get consideration from the full Assembly, which will also allow for public input That will determine if the city becomes further involved with the potential dock at the downtown subport owned by Huna Totem Corp., formerly owned by Norwegian Cruise Line.
In a memo written by City Manager Rorie Watt and shared at the meeting, Watt outlined why he thinks it’s in Juneau’s best interest for the city to get involved with the planning of the proposed dock.
“It’s a complicated issue, and it’s a big deal,” Watt said in an interview with the Empire. “If we decide a fifth dock is good for the community, it has to be done right and it’s not the kind of issue you can go backward on.”
Watt said the allocation of up to $300,000 would go toward preliminary engineering to see what it would take to build a cruise ship dock at the subport, along with looking at ship movement in the harbor. However, he said as planning continues it will likely accrue more expenses than covered by the proposed allocation.
If OK’d by the Assembly, Watt said the city’s involvement in the planning would be pivotal in helping the further gauging what is best for the Huna Totem Corp. development or a further waterfront development, which he said he thinks is looking more likely than not to happen.
The recent news of Juneau being chosen as the preferred home port for a privately owned icebreaker being purchased by the U.S. Coast Guard was also a factor in the decision to introduce the allocation proposal to the Assembly, Watt said.
The $150 million purchase of a private icebreaker with a controversial history, included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that passed Congress last week, would result in about 190 Coast Guard personnel assigned to the ship and 400 family members being stationed in Juneau, according to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican. The purchase would also be accompanied by the purchase of adjacent land to its docking site for development of supporting infrastructure.
A Coast Guard assessment of Alaska ports determined Juneau is the most suitable overall. Scott McCann, a Coast Guard spokesperson in Juneau, said the location of a home port is open to all local Coast Guard sites and still being evaluated.
However, Watt said he believes the Coast Guard will likely choose to port the 361-foot-long ship at its downtown waterfront location, which also factored into his push for the city to get involved in planning at the subport which is adjacent to the Coast Guard property. This is a shift from previous reporting that indicated Auke Bay may be the favored location.
“We want to make sure the Coast Guards’ needs can be met,” Watt said at the meeting Monday night. “A cruise ship dock is a big piece of infrastructure and complicated, we want to make sure everything fits together.”
Mickey Richardson, director of marketing for Huna Totem Corp. said in an interview that Monday night meeting was the first time Huna Totem had heard the city intended to get involved with its proposed dock and said he couldn’t say how receptive Huna Totem is to it, or how the recent news of the Coast Guard icebreaker might affect the corporation’s plans to develop.
Huna Totem has already shared extensive plans for the location and dubbed the project as the Àak’w Landing. During a Committee of the Whole meeting in November, the Alaska Native corporation gave the city an update of its concept designs and plans, sharing that it has a goal for the terminal and pier to greet the first ships of 2025.
Richardson said Huna Totem intends to gather more information and will discuss more during its upcoming presentation at the Rotary Club of Glacier Valley meeting in January.
“Our goal is to work together with the city and the Coast Guard,” Richardson said. “We firmly believe there is a workable solution for the good of the development, benefiting our community of Juneau and our Huna Totem shareholders.”
A handful of Assembly members were hesitant with the allocation request, most notably Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs who said she understands the urgency cited by Watt in the memo, but emphasized the cruise ship dock at the subport property is not a done deal and still needs approval from the Assembly and Juneau community before it moves forward.
“How can we be involved in creating a dock there and simultaneously holding a public process on whether there should be a doc there?” Hughes-Skandijs said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson. Reporter Mark Sabbatini contributed reporting to this article.