By ELISE GIORDANO       

Phase one of the Gateway Project has focused largely on mitigating Skagway’s harbor and refining the current port. But Port Commissioners want to focus not only on bettering what the port currently has, but also on creating new infrastructures for future ships, such as a floating dock.

During an April 30 work session involving Port Commissioners, assembly members and project engineers, Project Manager Chad Gubala outlined the details of the project’s upcoming design phase.

“With phase one happening, you have a fully functioning multiuse port. Plain and simple,” Gubala said.  “It’s not multiple berths, but you can do everything you’re doing [now], and you can do most of it better.”

Currently, phase one consists of remediation of the basin, the creation of uplands, demolition of the old wooden dock and the potential to replace the current ship loader, pending financial contribution from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Under the projected schedule, KPFF Engineers will apply for the Corps of Engineers permits during the first week of June, after which time they will complete 30 percent of the design phase and the bid documents. Construction will potentially begin in July 2016.
But just to enhance the dock’s current infrastructure will cost around $20 million, an amount that Port Commissioners hope will be aided by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, or TIGER grant.

During a May 6 Port Commission meeting, commissioners discussed the grant and what it should be applied to. The consensus was a floating dock near the current Ore Dock.
Via teleconference, commissioners spoke with Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska’s operations manager Rick Erickson from Ketchikan, who said he thinks the ultimate goal of the Port Commission is to accommodate bulk cargo and cruise ship traffic simultaneously.

“As a Port Commission, you have to ask the question, what is the priority of this community –  cruise or cargo? I would say you want to accommodate both, but I would think that a priority for the municipality would be to accommodate the cruise ship,” he said.

Erikson noted that Juneau has one floating dock and is in the process of developing two more.

“We need to look at the big picture,” he said. “If cruise ships aren’t a priority of Skagway, we need to figure out sooner rather than later how we are going to accommodate the new class [of ships] that is coming our way.”

Commission Chair Tim Bourcy agreed with Erikson, saying if a floating dock component is not implemented soon, the municipality may be setting itself up for financial failure.
“We need a revenue stream to help pay the debts,” Bourcy said.

It’s not just the current ships that Skagway sees regularly which need to be accommodated, but much larger 4,000 or more passenger ships coming out of Europe.
After traveling overseas himself, Commissioner Steve Hites reported back that Carnival UK plans to bring 3,500-passenger ships to Alaska, and even larger, 5,000-passenger, year-round ships will be journeying from Europe to China and then on to Alaska.

“They will be the biggest ships in the world,” Hites said. “If we don’t tell them that we are open for business, they will go someplace else.”

Hites added that cruise ship traffic is bringing in the money, saying new product from Yukon mines has yet to be seen.

“According to the original project, right now there was supposed to be 900,000 tons moving through this port. That didn’t happen. We know that we have 850,000 cruise ship passengers coming our way,” he said.

The commission will request $10 million from the federal TIGER grant program to pay for the floating dock, and will also look to private investors for future funding.

Looking to the municipality, Hites criticized it spending, saying the borough needs to stop consuming every dollar brought in.

“We want all this stuff, but we can’t have those things if we don’t take care of our industrial base,” he said.

Commissioner John Tronrud spoke similarly during the May 7 Borough Assembly meeting, saying a town the size of Skagway doesn’t need as large of a Public Safety Facility as they are proposing if they can’t get a floating dock.

Hites echoed his sentiment and said the community needs to stop spending and start saving.

“We have to focus on the bird in hand right now. Juneau is going to have three floating docks. Hoonah is getting a floating dock,” he said. “If we don’t have a place for the ships to come on site, they won’t come. Gateway has got to have a priority here at the assembly.”