By Melinda Munson

Amid fears of permit and work delays and the refusal of Royal Caribbean to berth at Ore Terminal in 2023, the alternative mooring plan is dead in the water. The assembly voted down the measure Nov. 17. If successful, the plan would have revamped Ore Dock, adding the capacity for one Very Large Cruise Ship (VLCS).

This leaves room for one VLCS at Railroad Dock, instead of the usual two, should landslide mitigation be successful. According to Rex Whistler, geological engineer for Shannon and Wilson, that possibility is looking more likely.

“It’s a monster of a rockslide,” he said. “There’s no denying that. But it’s going really, really well.”

Conversely, the alternative mooring plan which went to bid and received four responses was no longer supported by Borough Manager Brad Ryan and Port Director Cody Jennings. The lowest bidder, Hamilton Construction, was listed at $10,775,311. Ryan estimated that $3 million of the project would not carry over to the permanent Ore Dock replacement.

Ryan cited the “aggressive” timeline, incomplete project design, lack of permits and materials, increased cost, fear that delayed construction could render Ore Dock unusable for the season and lack of commitment from any cruise line as causes for concern.

Assembly members Sam Bass, Jay Burnham and Deb Potter voted against the measure. Assembly members

Orion Hanson, Dan Henry and Reba Hylton endorsed the project. Mayor Andrew Cremata cast the deciding negative vote.

“I just think the risks don’t outweigh the potential benefits,” Potter said. “And once again, there’s no guarantee that we spend this money and it makes a difference.”

Bass concurred.

“I think it’s most prudent to put this on pause just as the port director is recommending, just as the city manager is recommending, and we focus on 2024 and go from there,” he said, referencing the permanent Ore Dock rebuild, scheduled to be completed Spring 2025.

Hanson worried that if any landslide activity occurs at Railroad Dock in 2023, “our whole season is ruined.”  

He noted that tendering from Railroad Dock will have financial consequences.

“It’s a much worse experience for the tourists, and they don’t spend as much money – and a lot of people don’t get off the boat,” he said.

Cremata wasn’t optimistic about the alternative mooring project given the complexity and timeline, especially considering that work would have to cease when a marine mammal was within vicinity of the dock.

“Here are the odds of this thing being done by July – 0%,” he said. “…It’s unrealistic to me to say we’re going to have an aggressive timeline in a scenario where if whales are two miles from the construction zone, at the time when we’re going to have whales in our inlet every day, that we’re going to be remotely on time for this project.”

“I have the chair of finance,” Cremata added. “I have multiple people from the public. I have Norwegian saying they won’t dock on it. I’ve got Royal Caribbean saying they won’t dock on it … I vote no.” 

In the same meeting, the assembly approved the purchase of rockslide monitoring equipment and software at the cost of $70,577. The total station will use prisms and lasers to monitor movement, within a few centimeters.

“The intent and purpose of that is to give a quantifiable, not qualitative assessment, for all of us engineers on whether or not the slide is moving and how much, and when it is deemed unsafe to be underneath it,” Whistler said.

According to Whistler, monitors will be placed in areas “known to be potentially unstable,” such as Ship Rock, locally called “The Death Rock of Doom.” 

Whistler noted that the monitoring equipment “will not be precursors or indicators of individual blocks of rock that would fall. So, like the scaling objects that we’ve seen that have fallen, or the sudden detachment of the small slide that happened south of the main chute, halfway down on the dock – instabilities of those natures would not be covered or monitored by this toll station,” he said.

Whistler testified that he felt the landslide area was much safer after scaling by Rock Supremacy.

“It’s almost at the point now that I would feel comfortable getting on up and going down the slope,” Whistler said. “So that I think, hopefully carries weight, that they are nearing the end of their heavy scaling when the rock mechanic expert is the one that’s willing to risk his own life to … to go down the slope. If I’m not willing to hop on the slide, that should be the very first indication that you shouldn’t go near it. So, I’d say it’s coming along quite nicely.”

If the Railroad Dock landslide area passes testing and is supported by the cruise lines, Ryan said the plan is to tender passengers from the forward vessel and implement a combination of bussing and tendering from the aft berth. As Norwegian Cruise Line’s large ships are not equipped with tenders, the municipality continues to search for a solution to accommodate them.