Summary: Southeast Alaska’s busy waters mean more work for the U.S. Coast Guard and raises regulator questions for City and Borough of Juneau. CBJ’s Visitor Industry Task Force is going to have a busy January and February with public in put meetings, regular meetings and potential work sessions.
The task force is reviewing its upcoming meeting dates. Those include the public comment meetings Jan. 11 and 16 as well as some regular meetings slated for Jan. 21, Feb. 4 and Feb. 18.
On Jan. 21 a visitor cap or restriction will be discussed, Feb. 4 long-range waterfront plans will be the meeting focus and a committee report is expected Feb. 18, according to the meeting packet.
Triem said some work sessions may need to be scheduled for February or March to come up with a document of recommendations that will be sent on to the Assembly.
The topic of “hot berthing” has come up. Hot berthing is when a ship leaves and immediately has its space taken by another ship.
Terrel said she’d like to know how often it happens and where it happens.
Day said hot berthing currently only takes place at the AJ Dock.
City Manager Rorie Watt said it’s currently not happening at city docks.
Watt said Juneau has an opportunity to identify policy goals and make achieving them part of what it means to use Juneau’s docks.
Bryson said a big-picture update of infrastructure projects might be helpful for discussions going forward.
The task force is discussing areas that may need more attention to be appropriately managed, but comments have been a little slow.
“We’re a quiet group today,” said Visitor Industry Task Force Chair Carole Triem.
Day asked if growth and the number of people at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is something the task force should attempt to focus on managing.
Terrel said in her opinion, activity at Auke Bay, including whale watching, is not currently being managed appropriately.
After White’s presentation, he took some time to answer questions from reporters.
During the short conversation, he said the permitting process that would be required for a new cruise ship dock would include input from the public.
“That process can go fast sometimes, or it can go quite slow,” White said.
Task force member Kirby Day asked if a decision to close Juneau’s anchorage is a CBJ decision or a Coast Guard decision.
White said CBJ could say it was closed to cruise ships, but he was not sure how that would be enforced.
In response to a question from task force member Meilani Schijvens, White said any sort of dock that Norwegian Cruise Lines might want to build would require Army Corps of Engineers permitting, and that would require input from the Coast Guard.
Assembly and task force member Bryson asked how Juneau’s waterways compare to other locales in terms of volume, capacity and compliance.
White said Juneau has way less activity than New York or Charleston, but almost all of its activity is condensed into a handful of months.
“Compliance is really good up here,” White said. “I think people understand on the industry side that keeping things safe for them is important. Not just the big ships but the little ships.”
Captain of the Port is part of the Coast Guard’s authority in Juneau, White said.
“This really is a title that you’ll hear thrown around a lot, and it really carries the most authority,” White said.
That includes the authority to essentially “stop traffic” into the port.
“It’s supposed to be used judiciously,” White said.
That was the last slide in White’s presentation, and the floor has been opened for questions.
Task force member Paula Terrel asked who control whether ships can anchor in the port.
White said cruise ship tourism means Southeast Alaska’s waters are busier than at any other point in history.
The activity isn’t limited to large cruise ships, White said.
“It’s increased the small passenger vessels that are coming,” White said. “We’re seeing all kinds of stuff —duck boats and hydrofoils. We’re seeing all kinds of stuff.”
White brought up the Lumberman, a derelict tugboat that floats in the Gasitneau Channel. He said its future is still being discussed.
White began by establishing that Juneau is a “quintessential” maritime city.
“I just think it’s important to establish that this is truly one of the most beautiful and magnificent places to live,” White said.
White said he Coast Guard sector that includes Juneau, which is called Sector Juneau, spans from Yakutat to the Canadian border. The sector is larger than the state of Florida, according to White’s presentation.
The folding chairs filled in closer to the meeting’s start time. We’re up to about 20 attendees, and the task force meeting has begun.
Huna Totem Corporation executives, including President and CEO Russell Dick and Chief Operating Officer Fred Parady, are in attendance to listen to today’s meeting.
A quick head count puts attendance at about 14 people who aren’t part of the task force, snowy roads and a lack of public comment period may be keeping some folks away.
City and Borough of Juneau’s Visitor Industry Task Force will hear from U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Steve White, this afternoon according to today’s meeting agenda.
Discussion about managing tourism throughout the community is also planned for what is expected to be about an hour-long meeting.
A pair of public comment meetings are on the horizon for the task force created by Mayor Beth Weldon to help evaluate CBJ’s approach to managing tourism and making Juneau a desirable place to both live and visit.
The first public input meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, and another is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16. Both will be in the Assembly chambers.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt