Ketchikan could see its first ship of the year at the end of June. That’s after the city council okayed a plan from small ship operator American Cruise Lines Thursday.
Southeast ports have been working together on a set of protocols for cruise ships operating during the ongoing pandemic. But City Manager Karl Amylon said he thinks it’s unlikely they’ll agree on a set of criteria before the cruise line’s decision date of June 15.
“While my hope had been that we could get a regional set of protocols in place, they’re clearly not going to be in place relative to the request of American Cruise Lines,” he said.
He said smaller communities involved in the effort were worried about how they’d isolate positive cases or quarantine those potentially exposed.
Ketchikan city Mayor Bob Sivertsen summed up the calculus before the council:
“I think it all boils down to — what is the risk that a community wants to accept?” he said.
American’s plan for its 175-passenger Constellation requires passengers and crew to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding, preferably in their home community.
If that’s not possible, the plan says the passengers can be tested on arrival to Juneau, the departure port for the late June cruise. Passengers would be kept in quarantine until their results came back.
Ships would run at 75% capacity with rooms set aside for isolation and quarantine.
“This is an opportunity to check out what seems to be a very good plan on a very small number instead of practicing on the first 4,000 passenger ship next year or the year after,” said Ketchikan Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon.
Most of the council agreed. Ketchikan emergency manager Abner Hoage told the council that 100 people were arriving at Ketchikan’s airport every day — more than half of the American Constellation’s capacity.
Corporon noted that the vote to allow American Cruise Lines to moor June 30 was specific to that line. He said other cruise lines will be required to submit plans of their own.
“As the big lines start submitting their plans to the CDC, part of the requirement is that they have to have arrangements with the local communities on the protocols, including prearranged medevac services for anyone that needs to get sent out,” Corporon said.
Corporon said American Cruise Lines was the only operator so far that had submitted a plan to the city.
Council member Emily Chapel was the lone voice of opposition. She argued that Ketchikan should continue to pursue regional standards instead of acting independently.
“Because we are the Gateway City, and the decisions that we make, whether they have ports or not, is going to impact Wrangell, and it is going to impact Petersburg,” she said, “all of our decisions are interconnected.”
Thursday’s 6-1 vote also instructed city officials to continue to work with the Alaska Municipal League on regional cruise safety protocols.
In other business, the council granted a resident’s request to host a Recall Dunleavy drive-through petition-signing event on the downtown docks. City Attorney Mitch Seaver said signature-gathering is a constitutional right. And absent some overriding concern for something like port security, the event was “clearly allowable,” according to Seaver.
“Certainly we’re not to get ourselves involved as to the content — as to what it might be a petition for, what people might be saying,” he said.
The organizers submitted a safety plan to Ketchikan’s Port and Harbors department. That was approved Friday. Organizers say they’ll hold events at Berth 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekend, starting Saturday, June 5 at 11 a.m.
The council also voted to set July 11 as a sales tax holiday, about a week and a half after this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend will be distributed. That’s contingent on the borough assembly agreeing to the same date.
As the night wore on, the council opted to postpone any discussion of how to allocate $12 million in coronavirus relief funds to a special meeting set for next Thursday.