By Larry Persily
The Alaska Department of Transportation is working on a $27 million plan to build a ferry terminal at Cascade Point, almost 30 miles north of Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal, so that the state’s newest ferry could make daily round trips between Juneau, Haines and Skagway.
The proposal, which is still under review by the department, is designed to accommodate the 280-foot-long, 300-passenger Tazlina, which lacks crew quarters. U.S. Coast Guard regulations prohibit the ship from running more than 12 hours on the same crew without rest. Pulling into Cascade Point instead of the Auke Bay terminal would keep the round-trip voyage to 12 hours and allow day-boat service to the Lynn Canal communities, according to a March 26 memo from the Transportation Department’s design group to the commissioner’s office.
The Tazlina is scheduled to go into service in May. The ferry system timetable shows the Tazlina running about three times a week this summer between Juneau and Haines/Skagway, along with the Columbia and Malaspina each making a weekly run up Lynn Canal.
Engineering and construction of the new ferry terminal and road work out to Cascade Point could take at least two to three years, with the potential for delays in design and construction, according to the March 26 memo.
The department “has had the authority to begin this project ever since the Legislature appropriated funds for Juneau Access Improvements,” Deputy Commissioner Mary Siroky said in an April 19 response to a public records request from CoastAlaska public radio.
The administration of Gov. Bill Walker decided in 2016 not to pursue a federally funded highway along Lynn Canal to connect Juneau with Haines/Skagway under the Juneau Access project. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a couple of months after taking office, in February ordered a resumption of planning work on a Juneau Access project.
The department “has begun investigating the potential for a state-funded project … by utilizing the existing 30 miles of Glacier Highway to reduce ferry travel times in Lynn Canal,” Siroky wrote in her letter.
Neither Siroky’s letter nor the design group’s memo set out a timeline for when the department might decide whether to proceed with the project.
Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 provides no funding for the ferry system to operate next fall and winter. The governor has put the ferries on his list of state services that should be reduced to balance the budget, with legislative work on the spending plan still underway.
Separate from the budget process, the Department of Transportation has selected a consultant for a quarter-million-dollar study of lower-cost alternatives for operating the ferry system, but the losing bidder has protested the selection and delayed award of the contract.
The $27 million estimate for the Cascade Point terminal includes dredging of the mooring basin, construction of marine facilities to dock the ferry and offload and load passengers and vehicles, an upland staging area for vehicles, and an electrical generator (power lines do not extend that far out the road from Juneau). The estimate includes a pit toilet.
The estimate does not include any expenses to improve the road to Cascade.
The land at Cascade Point is owned by Juneau-based Native corporation Goldbelt, which operates a shuttle ferry from a small dock nearby, providing transportation to and from the Kensington gold mine past Berners Bay.
Cascade Point, the end of the Juneau road system, is at the southern end of Berners Bay. The design group’s memo acknowledges, “There are significant environmental concerns in Berners Bay, including an abundance of marine mammals, herring and hooligan (eulachon or candlefish) spawning in the spring and other marine wildlife.”
The design group’s March 26 memo lists the work required for the project and some of the considerations, including:
• The final 8.7 miles of road to Cascade Point is not paved, only chip-sealed. “This chip-sealed roadway has bumps, potholes and narrow shoulders,” the memo said.
• Almost 6 miles of that stretch would need resurfacing and its underlying subbase would deteriorate with the additional vehicle traffic and would require more maintenance until the subbase under the road is improved. Improving and widening the road could cost as much as $16 million, though there are less costly options for less extensive improvements, according to the memo.
• “The site is located in an exposed and unprotected location from wind and waves,” but that should be much of an issue if it is used only in the spring and summer months. “The premise of this study report contemplates that the Cascade ferry terminal facility will only be in service during the spring and summer months,” the memo said.
• As there is no potable water or sewage service at Cascade Point, “it is assumed that the vessel would discharge sewage and take on water periodically in Auke Bay or Skagway,” the memo said, adding that dumping sewage at the Skagway would require improvements — there is no sewage disposal capability at the Skagway ferry terminal.