Last summer, Juneau celebrated a ribbon cutting for new cruise ship docks, which were known to many as “16B” due to the number of configurations considered before the final design was selected. It took more than 10 years to navigate the public process to build this project. To say the least, financing, permitting and construction on Juneau’s very active waterfront is complex and takes time.
Six months later, the community learned that between the summers of 2017 and 2019 the number of cruise ship passengers visiting Juneau would increase by about 25 percent. As the 16B example shows, it’s difficult to keep up with the needs of the industry on a timely basis.
Some community members have expressed concern that Juneau is not ready or prepared to handle this growth but, in reality, a number of initiatives are already underway. In response to rapid passenger growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Assembly adopted the visionary Long Range Waterfront Plan in 2004. This plan set the stage for the development of the cruise ship docks and Seawalk, but the plan is becoming dated.
Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives that, when looked at all together, approach an update to the Long Range Waterfront Plan. Included are major capital improvement projects that are designed to accommodate growth. There are Seawalk projects in the planning stages now that would complete the vision of the Long Range Waterfront Plan to provide a continuous waterfront walkway from the rock dump to the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. Another capital improvement is the infill development south of the Downtown Public Library to provide more passenger vehicle staging and open space for the increase in visitors that are coming on larger ships. These projects are all designed to provide for safe and efficient movement of the more than 13,000 passengers and nearly 6,000 crew members who will be in port on the peak visitation day this summer. That’s a lot for a town of 30,000.
Another initiative that will be led by the Docks & Harbors Department is the analysis of smaller ship berthing opportunities. This is a growing market area with a different economic footprint. It is important to plan now because as the ships get larger and the associated movement and infrastructure grows, opportunities for future small ship berthing will diminish.
The industry itself is also rapidly evolving. One way is that many of the newer ships are outfitted with modern exhaust scrubber systems which result in cleaner emissions. The scrubbers use water to cut down on particulates in the emissions, and this results in more steam, which unfortunately makes the emissions appear to be worse. The City Manager has asked industry representatives to make a more concerted effort to tell their side of this good story.
Local tour operators are also meeting to plan the future of the very successful, private sector founded and driven Tourism Management Best Practices program. This program welcomes and responds to constructive criticism around tourism. After more than two decades of service, Kirby Day is passing the mantle and tour operators are working with Travel Juneau to ensure continued success of the program.
While the city is still involved in the ongoing lawsuit raised by Cruise Lines International Association against CBJ, Juneau continues to work hard to develop and provide appropriate infrastructure and services, and collaborate with industry representatives to advance many common goals. Both parties may be in court, but both parties also strive to work together and solve each other’s issues. For some perspective, the cost of three larger pilings for the “16B” cruise ship dock project is greater than CBJ’s litigation costs.
Like some of the cruise ships seen in Juneau, all the issues on the waterfront are supersized, and city staff are working on every front to continue to develop and manage Juneau’s world class port. There is ample opportunity for public participation and involvement on many fronts. Much like how the Long Range Waterfront Plan set the stage in 2004 for the last fifteen years, decisions are being made now for the next fifteen.