by Tom LeCompte
August 17, 2004
I have worked in the Cruise Industry for 10 years, and was onboard the ships working with the officers and administrators during that time.
Several things need to be examined. Greed by the downtown core folks is certainly one of them. A business can't get every visitor in their doors, as much as they might like to. But more visitors are coming. We've all heard up to 1.3 MILLION in the next 5-8 years.
A cruise ship with 2000 passengers, about the average size anymore, spends about $137 cash out of pocket everyday right here in Ketchikan. ( McDowell Group Surveys of 2002.) This is cash out of pocket, spent and taxed right here in Ketchikan, for t-shirts, independent tours, and trinkets. The average crew member spends $20 weekly here in town and there are about 900 of them on the average ship. So one visit by that average ship will drop, conservatively, $292,000 a week in Ketchikan. Times 20 weeks....hmmm 5-6 million dollars for the season.
However, a ship at anchor only spends about 65% of what a ship alongside the dock spends, since many of the passengers don't like to ride the tenders from the ship to town. So the key would be to get the ships alongside, so those passengers can spend.
I attended the innaugural luncheon for the first season of the Serenade of the Seas with local dignitaries and business people. Captain Nikolaos Antalis from Royal Caribbean is the senior Captain in the Alaska Fleet in terms of service here. Over twenty seasons in Alaskan Cruising. I stood right there while Captain Antalis told shipping officials and City Engineer Jim Voetberg why the Southern approaches to piers on that end of the city are undesirable and even dangerous for ships.
Cruise ships are very lightweight for their size and very much affected by wind. We can't let the gentle winds and pleasant weather of our last two summers delude us away from what our average summer is. On a normal SE-SW windy day these big cruise ships will have a very hard time getting in to the piers on the South end of Thomas basin, and also getting off the piers at the end of the day. If one of those ships ever gets out of control all the thrusters in the world and all the tugs in town won't be able to control the ship....until it hits something solid. Captain Antalis told Mr. Voetberg how and why an approach to piers on the North side of the tunnel is easier and safer for the ships. I wonder if Mr. Amylon heard, listened to, or allowed Mr. Voetberg to dispense that information at all.
Local businesses might remember stormy days at the end of the season in years past when ships sailed right past town without even slowing down. There is nothing contractual that says the ships have to come here, and in the passenger's ticket info all ports and itineraries are "subject to change." So on any stormy day those ships might blow the port, if they can't get alongside safely, and just sail on by. One of the big ships made three tries last summer to get along side on a marginal day and then left.
SE Stevedoring built a new pier in Juneau in 17 months once they had the permits. Pool Engineering contracted the work and it is a beautiful, functional facility. Even in Juneau where they complain about everything, the dock is viewed as a necessary and quality addition to the tourist infrastructure. SE Stevedoring has designed and built docks throughout the region with an eye on safety and maneuverability at all times. Their job is to get the ships moored safely, without worrying about which business gets the gangway off the ship place in front of their door.
SE Stevedoring had a plan in place for a two berth pier North of the tunnel several years ago, but when the city brought out their plan, the Stevedores put their plan on hold to see what the city came up with.
First the city brought out the T-Pier idea. When it was presented by the mayor to Royal Caribbean administrators as the only alternative to anchoring out, those administrators agreed it would be better than nothing. Not one WORKING deck officer in our entire fleet of two dozen plus cruise ships ever endorsed the T-pier as a good idea. No master mariner, coast guard official, or local fishermen ever endorsed it either. But how long did it take to get the message to the local government? The city get its own consultant from Miami or somewhere to sing the party line just the way they want him to, and then quotes him as the expert. They never ask the people actually operating and maneuvering the ships in our harbor. The city never asks the Stevedoring Company who co-ordinates the tugboats and longshoremen who work to get these ships alongside. Why not ask people who know? Local Harbormasters show up on arrival and departure and do an excellent job with crowd control and safety issues, but they have no active part in the movement of these ships. Again, when did the city consult with the Stevedoring Company, or assemble a panel of captains or deck officers from among the fleet. Why not consult the people who work HERE?
Now here's the next ploy by the city. While SE Stevedoring patiently waited for the city to explore pier options, the City, surreptitiously locked up all the tidelands to the North of City Float that weren't already owned by someone else. So, while forcing the issue of piers on the South end of town, the City has also blocked SE Stevedoring from access to tidelands needed to build the piers that the industry really wants, as much for safety and maneuverability as anything.
Why hasn't this been put out for a vote by the local constituency? Why is the City so against cleaning up the North side of the tunnel. It would be urban renewal and really open up foot traffic from the Mall to Downtown. Dave Rubin had a great idea to make the Waterfront Storage building into a historic cannery-mall site. Can you imagine all the cool shops you could put into that multistory building. It would be like the Hanger Building in Juneau.
If this industry is our bread and butter, why not develop what they want. Use the head tax to improve infrastructure according to the law, and let private enterprise do its job. I don't want the City and Borough competing with local businesses and individual entrepreneurs.
A few years ago a man on Pennock had a problem with the big methane gas burps from the south end cannery waste piles underwater. Slimy goo was washing up on the Pennock beaches which had a smell and life of its own. This gentleman took a tupperware bowl of the smelly stuff to a city council meeting to show them. At some point either that evening or later the mayor at the time, accused this man of trying to singlehandedly shut down the fishing industry in Ketchikan. Now the Mayor and Karl Amylon are going to block access to the canneries, to the fuel docks, and to the Universitiy's dock area and tidelands as well. Now who is singlehandedly going to close the canneries in Ketchikan? Guess it depends on your agenda on the given day.
I don't want more government operated businesses. How are we ever going to get more people and businesses to come here when anyone who has a good idea will get squeezed out, cheated, or leveled by someone building an empire?
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