Juneau Assembly to consider removing first hurdle to Norwegian Cruise Line’s dock

The image on the left shows the subport area of downtown Juneau in the city’s Long Range Waterfront Plan from 2004. (The city maps misidentify Whitter Street as Wittier Avenue.) The image on the right shows a concept in an amendment to the plan that city staff are proposing that would kill the marina concept and accommodate Norwegian Cruise Line’s goal to build a new cruise ship dock there.  (Composite image by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly will soon consider removing one of the first hurdles for a cruise line’s plan to build a new dock for its ships. 

For the last 17 years, Juneau’s Long Range Waterfront Plan has called for a new mixed-use neighborhood and marina between the U.S. Coast Guard facility and the mouth of Gold Creek. That’s also where Norwegian Cruise Line bought a nearly 3-acre piece of land known as the subport lot in 2020 for a whopping $20 million from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. 

As is, it’s unclear if the city’s waterfront plan fits with Norwegian’s goal to build a new cruise ship dock there. It would be Juneau’s fifth parking spot for big ships.

The city’s plan on the books calls for a marina for smaller boats and a long, floating dock for visiting yachts, small cruise ships, the military and “other vessels.” It would likely obstruct a big cruise ship dock there. 

City staff are proposing an amendment to the existing waterfront plan that kills the marina and floating dock concept. Instead, there’d be a facility for one large cruise ship and the neighboring federal agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Amending the waterfront plan wouldn’t clear the way for Norwegian to build. But it would be one less thing for the Juneau Planning Commission to parse when it considers granting Norwegian a permit to develop its property. 

“The amendment’s required as a first step,” said Alexandra Pierce, the city’s tourism manager.

She said the planning commission would still have other bread-and-butter urban planning issues to weigh. 

“The zoning in the area, parking and traffic requirements, things like that,” she said. 

Pierce presented the proposed changes to the waterfront plan last week and has been asking for public comment. She said so far, people have voiced strong support and strong opposition. 

“Haven’t seen a ton of comments yet, about a dozen,” she said. “I would say that it’s fairly similar to the types of comments that we received in the visitor industry task force.”  

A professional phone survey conducted last year showed that most Juneau residents support Norwegian’s development of the dock. 

To formally weigh in on the city’s Long Range Waterfront Plan amendment, email Alexandra Pierce. The comment period is open through the end of January. 

Pierce plans to update the Assembly in a committee meeting on Monday. The Assembly must also hold a public hearing before its final vote on the amendment, which will likely be in February. 

Besides the city’s waterfront plan and the planning commission permit, the cruise line has more public hurdles in its path. Norwegian still needs permission from the city to develop and operate in the city-owned tidelands around the property. And the Coast Guard and NOAA also must be satisfied if the development impacts their access to the water. 

That gives the city room to negotiate for conditions the city’s tourism task force recommended in 2020. That includes electrifying the dock so that cruise ships can plug into Juneau’s clean power grid while in port, instead of burning fuel to generate electricity on board. Another recommendation is to limit the use of the dock to one big cruise ship per day. 

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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