Citing concerns over how a bridge could affect the cruise industry, the Ketchikan City Council voted Thursday to endorse one of the four ferry options offered in the state’s most recent Gravina Access project study.
The Council approved a motion in favor of Alternative G4, which calls for new ferry ramps and improved facilities right next to the existing ferry terminals.
Council Member Sam Bergeron opened the discussion. He said he used to think a bridge was a good idea.
“But as time has passed, and as we look at the bridge alternatives and the impact on a very established cruise industry, and as we look at the state of federal funding and all our other needs, I can’t really support, and will not support, any kind of bridge option going over to Gravina,” he said.
Bergeron said the only option he now can support is improved ferry access. He said Ketchikan has infrastructure needs on Revilla Island that are more important than a new bridge to an island with very little development.
Council Member Dick Coose cast the only vote against the motion to endorse ferries, which he said is a short-sighted move. He said Ketchikan shouldn’t sacrifice a hard link because of an industry that might not last. Coose said the state’s bridge designs can be modified to make them more cruise-ship friendly, and the idea shouldn’t be abandoned.
“I still think a bridge is the best long-term – several decades out – for this community,” he said. “The ships, as much as I appreciate them and work with them every day, they do have motors. They’re not a fixed hotel on the ground. I think there’s lots of economic development issues that in the future could benefit us with a hard link to that island.”
The state Department of Transportation is accepting comments through Aug. 13 on the project’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Study, released last month. The options include two bridge designs and four ferry plans.
During a recent public hearing in Ketchikan, a marine pilot expressed concern about the bridge options, stating that they would make access difficult for large cruise ships.
City Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon expressed similar concerns. He wrote in a memo that both bridge designs provide a vertical clearance of 200 feet. The largest ship that now stops in Ketchikan has an air draft of 200 feet, and at least two ships that might enter the Alaska market require even more clearance.
Corporon also spoke during the Council meeting, and talked about what he believes would provide significantly better access to Gravina.
“To me, what makes a little more sense, when they put it out, you would need a third ferry right now to do it right,” he said. “So you would always have two, and then one available for emergencies or routine maintenance replacements. If they put one in the pipeline now so it’s ready in a few years, you would have them on a fairly decent rotation schedule.”
Corporon said that two ferries running all day, year-round, and one running at night, would provide the 24-hour access needed to encourage development on Gravina Island.
Council Member Matt Olsen agreed. He said he used to support a bridge, but not anymore. He added that the entire community should tell the state to provide free access to Ketchikan’s airport, no matter which option the Department of Transportation eventually chooses.
“We need better access, we need cheaper access and it’s not our fault that you put the airport over there,” he said.
Ketchikan’s airport was built by the state, which retains ownership. However, the airport is operated by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
The motion endorsing Alternative G-4 included a comment asking the state to provide free access to the airport.