New Cruise Ship Berth in Juneau Prepares to Welcome Tourists

By ,   January 29, 2017 ,   Cruise Industry

This summer, a new downtown cruise ship dock in Juneau will welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists eager to see the Great Land. It iwll also welcome a whole lot of sewage.

On January 25, the City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors department hosted members of the public, media and local government on a tour of the berth under construction in the shadow of the downtown library.

The project is on time and on budget, city officials said.

“We’re 85 percent through now, and we’ve still got less than 1 percent change orders on a $54 million project,” said Port Director Carl Uchytil while pointing to the effort from the top-floor library.

Project manager Monica Blanchard of Seattle-based Manson Construction said workers are “on schedule to be done by the end of March and be out of here by early April.”

Electrical and plumbing work will continue through April but finish before the first cruise ship arrives May 1.

The ongoing work is part of the city’s effort to accommodate larger cruise ships. In winter 2015-2016, Manson built the “south berth,” a structure extending into deeper water from Juneau’s longtime wooden seawalk. This winter, it’s the turn of the “north berth,” which is closer to Marine Park.

When complete, the north berth will look much the same as its completed sibling near the Mount Roberts Tram. The most significant difference is its proximity to the shoreline. An unbroken row of mooring dolphins and a catwalk (accessible only to longshoremen) will connect the two berths.

Assistant Port Engineer Erich Schaal said that under the old setup, the city could accommodate a cruise ship of 800 feet and one of 960 feet at the Alaska Steamship Dock.

When the work is complete, Juneau will be able to simultaneously accommodate a 1,000-foot ship and a 1,100-foot ship in the two closest berths to downtown. With cruise companies favoring larger ships to improve efficiency, the availability of larger berths improves Juneau’s accessibility.

Previously, only the privately owned AJ Dock could accommodate ships that large.

In addition to accommodating larger ships, the new berths include water and sewage hookups for visiting vessels. While the city has long sold water to ships, it hasn’t offered sewage service.

Schaal said sewage piping was installed in the south berth last year, but it can’t be used until the north berth is finished.

The city is in negotiations to set a price for sewage service, and the ability of the downtown sewage treatment plant will determine whether the city accepts sewage from any given ship, Schaal said.

Both berths also have conduit to accommodate electrical hookups for visiting ships, but Uchytil said Alaska Electric Light and Power currently lacks the ability to supply visiting ships, and it would cost more to complete the corrections.

“When the time is right to electrify, we’ll be able to do that — not easily; it’s about $12 million per berth — but we’ll be able to do it,” he said.

Electricity is available to light the berths, which also have connections for the fire department.

Schaal said the new berths mean portions of the downtown seawalk will no longer be blocked when ships arrive. There also won’t be a need for forklifts to maneuver mooring lines — electric winches will do the work instead.

Schaal added that finishing the project will require work on South Franklin Street near the library. That work is on hold until the asphalt plant restarts operations later this year.

City officials are also extending the fencing surrounding the pilings beneath the library. Juneau’s resident homeless population occasionally seeks shelter under the library, and a man had to be rescued by Capital City Fire/Rescue last year after falling into the water.

Schaal said the intent is to block access to that area permanently.

The project is being purchased with state grants and revenue bonds backed by a surcharge levied by the city on cruise ship tourists.