A second pier is coming to Icy Strait Point, and more ships and tourists will be coming with it.
The project is a collaboration between Huna Totem Corporation, which owns the tourist destination just outside Hoonah, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. The City of Hoonah this week approved pursuing a lease to accommodate the project, which will bring more tourists to the small town when the pier becomes operational in 2020.
“For us, we’re always looking at financial and operational sustainability,” Russell Dick, CEO for Huna Totem Corporation, said in an interview. “This has tremendous economic impact on the community of Hoonah. We’re starting to fill up our first dock, and we’ve got interest from other cruise lines, and this was an opportunity for us to expand the infrastructure out there, to accommodate the growing need of the cruise lines in the industry and also increase our own business.”
The new pier will be about a half of a mile away from the existing dock toward Outer Point Sophia. Last year, about 85 percent of the ships that called on Icy Point Strait were Royal Caribbean International Ships, Dick said, and the new pier with Norwegian Cruise Lines will help more ships from different cruise lines and of different sizes come in.
Hoonah City Administrator Dennis Gray Jr. said the development and influx of tourists could be an economic boon for Hoonah, which is a predominantly Alaska Native community about 40 miles west of Juneau.
“It’s really a partnership still with the city,” Gray said. “It’s an important project to help us grow our tourism industry for sure. We support it 100 percent.”
However, for some, crowding concerns are on equal footing with the business boost.
Yvette Darrington, owner of Smokey’s Fish Company & Coffee Shop, splits time between Juneau and Hoonah and said she has some reservations about the new pier, even if it might be good for her Hoonah business.
“I think Hoonah, as well as Juneau, struggles greatly with the amount of tourists who are being brought in,” Darrington said. “It can be a good thing, but it’s really a double-edged sword.”
Darrington said tourist season jobs allow people to make a living since logging is no longer viable for many. Tourism, she said, brings an in flux of disposable income into Southeast Alaska, but also puts a strain on communities and infrastructure.
“I think there’s been too big of a rush to get behind it without thinking of all the pros and cons of it,” Darrington said. “It’s going to be difficult for them to deal with it.”
Dick and Tyler Hickman, Vice President of Operations for Huna Totem Corporation, said the new structure won’t create crowding problems for Icy Strait Point or lessen its visitors’ experiences.
“I think one of the most important points that has been missed and will continue to be missed by most is the way it was developed,” Hickman said. “There’s a lot of fear about us becoming like the bigger ports that are just over-run by people. The major ports are running out of land. The good thing about what we’re doing is that with Huna Totem’s 2,300 acres of land, we have a blank slate to work with, and the existing wilderness experience that we deliver is something we can continue to do. Even with two ships on the dock on the same day, they’ll have the same wilderness experience.”
While the pier is expected to be operating by the 2020 season, construction will start much sooner. The permitting process is underway, Dick said, and construction is expected to start in May.
The new pier will look a lot like the existing pier at Icy Strait Point.
“When a lay person looks at it, it’s going to look very, very similar,” Hickman said. “It will hold the breakaway plus-size ships, which are the largest ships that Norwegian Cruise Line currently has.”
A breakaway-sized ship has a guest capacity of 3,963, according to Norwegian Cruise Line.
On the city’s side of the equation, Gray said the city is working out the terms of a tideland lease to accommodate the project. Tuesday night, the city council authorized pursuing a lease, but the specific terms of such an agreement are still being developed and would come back to the council for final approval.
The lease would likely be for at least 25 years, Gray said, and the land will be leased at its appraised value. How much land will be leased is undetermined.
Gray said the exact value of the land is also unspecified, but similar properties are valued at about $200 per acre.
“We have an appraiser lined up, and we’re also identifying the footprint for the facility to proceed with that for final approval,” Gray said.
Even without a new pier, Icy Strait Point is expected to get busier.
Cruise Lines International Association Alaska projects Icy Strait Point will receive 122 calls in 2019, which is up from a reported 107 calls last year, and a drastic increase from where the pier’s 32-call starting point in 2004.
Icy Strait Point was called on six to eight during the busiest parts of the season, according to CLIAA figures. Last year, Wrangell, which has a population of about 2,300, according to the latest census data was called on once or twice per week, according to CLIAA data. Ketchikan with a population over 8,200 regularly saw more than 20 calls in a week. Juneau, with a population of about 32,000 is expected to see 567 voyages and 1.31 million visitors in 2019.
The new pier is expected to cause a 30- to 40-percent increase in the number of Huna Totem Corporation staff, Hickman said.
Dick said at last year’s peak, there were about 160 staff members, and 80 percent of the employees were from the Hoonah community.
A 35 percent increase from 160 staff members would represent 56 new jobs in the community, which is a large number for a community of fewer than 800.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for local employment,” Dick said. “The sales tax impact to the community is going to be substantial, additional infrastructure and development, local payroll is significant for the community”
Dick said exactly how many ships and people will be brought in by the new pier at Icy Strait Point in 2020 and beyond is unknown.
“It’s going to depend on itinerary planning for all the cruise lines, the hope is that as we develop the infrastructure that we can have a ship at each dock,” Dick said.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.