Ketchikan’s city council will seek bids to upgrade the city-owned downtown docks, but an opposition petition has already garnered more than 200 signatures.

Listen to this story

The city’s request for proposals, or RFP, lays out a couple forms a deal could take.

One of those is what the city calls a concession agreement. That’s a system in which the city hires a company to manage the docks — scheduling cruise ships, maintaining restrooms, things like that.

“Traffic management, canopy signage, you know, stuff that is customer service driven,” said Luis Ajamil. He’s the CEO of the Miami-based consulting firm the city hired to help draft the RFP, Bermello, Ajamil and Partners.

He says the concessionaire would not be allowed to open shops on the docks that might compete with downtown merchants.

Another route potential bidders could explore is a preferential berthing agreement. A cruise line would pay the city a certain amount of money to guarantee space at for its ships when they call in Ketchikan. Alternatively, it could commit to bringing a certain number of passengers to the port every year.

That’s similar to the reported arrangement between Norwegian Cruise Line and developers behind the proposed Ward Cove dock.

Ajamil said he’s optimistic the city will get a number of bids.

“There is a high level of interest,” he said, “so that’s really good news for the city.”

He says his firm reached out to 11 potential companies, including cruise lines, port operators and stevedoring companies. He says seven of those said they’d be interested in submitting a proposal.

But the city says it will also consider proposals that don’t fit those two models.

Already there are signs of opposition.

More than 200 people signed a grassroots petition opposing any deal between the city and private operators for Ketchikan’s cruise docks.

The signatories, united under the group name OURPORT, called themselves “Ketchikan residents who believe the City of Ketchikan should retain control and management of (its) cruise ship berths.”

None of the petition’s proponents spoke up at the meeting. They also didn’t return calls for comment Friday.

Council Member Dick Coose challenged those in opposition to bring their own ideas to the table.

“I don’t think I’m out of line saying if that group wants to put something together to show us how to get bonding done, and we own the docks and get what we want, this whole process is open,” he said. “They can bring it to us anytime they want.”

Once a January 21 deadline for proposals expires, a city council committee will unseal the bids.

Ketchikan resident Mary Stephenson spoke up during the public comment period. Her name wasn’t on the OURPORT petition, but she said she’s concerned too much could be decided behind closed doors without community input.

“I really think you need to select a couple of members — business, residents in the community — to be on this review committee so that yes, they’re held to standards of keeping it private, but they too are seeing it done correctly,” Stephenson said.

She followed up with an email to KRBD. Stephenson expressed concerns over the mechanics of operating the port with a private-sector partner.

“If the new partner wants to manage the port, then what does that mean; we already have a Ports and Harbor Director and staff who does that; are they without a job?” Stephenson said.

She also lamented that the city hadn’t raised its port fees to fund a dock improvements without a private partner.

Two council members mentioned putting an eventual deal up for a vote.

The city manager’s office says the full council would have to codify any potential deal in an ordinance. Then, within 30 days, citizens could ask the city to put the agreement up for a vote — a referendum petition, in bureaucrats’ parlance. But the vote wouldn’t happen automatically.

The RFP will be officially issued October 21. The city will accept proposals through January 21.

You can read the full RFP here.