The first cruise ships are scheduled to arrive in Klawock in less than a year. The local Native corporation, Klawock Heenya, is working with Huna Totem Corporation to build Prince of Wales Island’s first cruise ship dock.
But some residents are anxious about the possible impacts that small and mid-size ships could have on the small town’s limited infrastructure. The companies behind the dock project held a public forum earlier this month. to share their plans for the former Klawock lumber dock and hear residents’ concerns.
Two docks, housing, retail opportunities, entertainment venues, a ‘water theater,’ shore power connection, on-site housing and bus turnaround spots — all part of what Huna Totem sees in the future of Klawock’s former logging port.
Huna Totem is using the property to bring cruise tourism to Prince of Wales Island, using a model similar to Hoonah’s Icy Strait Point.
Huna Totem Director of Marketing Mickey Richardson said the existing dock is a great starting point.
“What we’re trying to do is lay out kind of a floor plan or master plan that allows us to draw things such as power, where the welcome center is going to be, where the bus turn is going to be, and never have to move that (location) through the phases of development,” he said.
Richardson said the first phase includes the docks, utilities, a welcome center, some retail, an area for food and drink, and somewhere for buses to turn around. He said crafts, nature walks and other experiences will be available for people stepping off the boats.
“Then as we grow, we’re off to the “Main Street, Alaska,” as we like to call it,” Richardson said. “We’ll have an enlarged departure center, (and), welcome center. We’ll have different aged areas of engagement. So we will call it more like (a) “edutainment” type facility as part of the plan. Increased retail, fun concept of water theater, which is kind of a fun, larger, iconic experience for guests to have.”
Richardson explained phase two is where shore power would come in. There’s not a firm timeline for when they’ll reach this phase.
“They’ll be able to shut down their engines, which is very, very, very cool,” he said.
There are currently four ships scheduled to stop in Klawock next summer. Richardson said a single boat could carry between 700 and 800 people.
The hundreds of extra people in town of roughly 900 is what strikes a chord with some residents, who worry about how that will affect their town’s resources.
Some residents asked about how sewage from the ships will impact Klawock waters.
Huna Totem isn’t concerned — Richardson explained the ships’ wastewater systems are required to comply with strict standards from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“All of the ships have their own sewage processing that happens on board,” he said.
Klawock’s mayor, Don Nickerson, said he’s confident that ships won’t degrade local waters. He said the facilities onboard the ships might be even better than some around the state.
“Actually, we did some research in reference to wastewater coming out of these ships, and you know, they have high tech wastewater treatment plants inside these ships that are coming in,” Nickerson said.
Nickerson also attended the meeting. He asked Huna Totem about how a surge of visitors might affect emergency services in the small community. Nickerson says there’s an on-call crew of eight EMS personnel and two police officers in Klawock.
Huna Totem CEO Russell Dick responded that there haven’t been any problems in Hoonah. He said the uptick in cruise passengers hasn’t put any pressure on the local hospitals — except for serious cases, he says ships typically tend to their own passengers.
“They typically try not to put any strain on the existing health facilities whatsoever,” Dick said.
Other Prince of Wales Island residents at the forum were concerned about what type of role Indigenous artists and business owners would take on when it comes to welcoming the visitors. Dick said they plan to work with Klawock’s native corporation to make sure artists are able to sell their wares and share stories and information with cruise tourists.
“You know, as we work through this design process, we’ll have more to share as well about how that lays out, and we’ll be looking for input,” Dick said. “So it’s really on Klawock Heenya about how we engage with local artists.”
Nickerson said he’s optimistic about the cruise industry coming to Klawock. He said he thinks it’ll be good for the community.
“I look at the salmon industry, you know, a big portion of the salmon boats that come in to fish Alaska, you know, are from out of state,” Nickerson said. “So the revenue doesn’t stay in the communities.”
The first ship scheduled to stop in Klawock is the Oceania Cruise Lines vessel Regatta, on May 24.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to reflect that Huna Totem did not purchase the dock.
Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.