Ketchikan City Council’s plan to revamp its cruise ship docks attracted a full house Thursday evening. Residents raised concerns over handing management of city-owned berths to a private operator. The city is also moving forward with buying up a shuttered restaurant to create more harborside parking.
A majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s City Council meeting asked the council to retain control of the city-owned downtown cruise ship docks.
The city is seeking private-sector proposals to pay for upgrades for the port in exchange for either guaranteed berthing space or the right to manage the docks and charge fees to cruise lines. Ketchikan business owner Tom Ferry said he was skeptical of that plan.
“I just don’t think we should have any outside company come in and manage our docks, at all,” he said. “I think that everyone that’s doing everything has done a good job so far, and why not just let it continue as it is?”
The Council opened the bidding process in October. The city outlines two potential ways to compensate the bidder. One is a preferential berthing agreement: a cruise line would have guaranteed space at the docks for its ships when they call on Ketchikan.
Another option would be a concession agreement. That would turn over port operations to a private company, which would handle scheduling, dock maintenance and things of that nature. The concessionaire would charge cruise lines for that service.
Some residents said they feared losing public access to the docks. But city manager Karl Amylon said the city is requiring public access be preserved as part of its request for proposals.
“We want to maintain public accessibility to the docks,” he said.
Amylon also said the city has no intention of barring local vendors from the docks. He said the city council wouldn’t be required to move forward if it wasn’t satisfied with the proposals it receives.
And if enough residents aren’t happy with the city council’s decision, they could force a vote of the people. That’s because the city’s code makes any final deal subject to a petition calling for a referendum.
In other business, state transportation officials offered details on revamping Tongass Avenue between the downtown tunnel and Ketchikan Medical Center.
State officials recommend several changes to Ketchikan’s primary artery. One of those would take the four-lane section of Tongass Avenue and reduce it to three lanes with a center left-turn lane. Traffic consultant Jeanne Bowie explained the change.
“The three-lane roadways have been shown to have a really good safety benefit for vehicles, for pedestrians and for bicyclists,” she said.
The plan would also install flashing lights at three crosswalks in the corridor to improve pedestrian safety.
Some council members raised questions over the state’s plan to install pedestrian islands in some crosswalks, saying they might block emergency vehicles. But state engineers told the Council that ambulances and fire trucks could drive over the islands.
Elsewhere in the meeting, the council voted to negotiate a deal to buy the former Bar Harbor Restaurant. The city council wants to replace the former business with a harborside parking lot. While demolition is estimated to cost $50,000, additional work required to ready the site for parking is estimated at $2.3 million. That was too much for Councilmember Janalee Gage.
“With everything else needing fixing, […] I just don’t see the logic in spending that kind of money,” she said.
Gage cast the lone no vote. A final deal would need approval from the City Council.
With the meeting extending late into the night, the council scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7 for its closed-door executive sessions. On the agenda are a new agreement with environmental regulators over the need to build a filtration plant for the city’s water system. The city council will also get an update on contract talks with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents utility workers.