Mayor Douglas Olerud will compose a letter pending assembly approval that will be sent to Gov. Michael Dunleavy with questions about the state’s plan to potentially build a ferry terminal at Cascade Point.
The Alaska Department of Transportation issued a memorandum of understanding with Goldbelt in March for the Alaska Native corporation to evaluate feasibility and permitting of marine facilities at Cascade Point, 30 miles north of Juneau’s Auke Bay dock, to decide “whether or not to fund the construction of the facility.”
In an April 2021 letter, the assembly voted to support the Cascade Point ferry terminal when it was understood that the lack of crew quarters on the Tazlina and Hubbard prevented the boats from making day trips to and from Juneau to Haines and Skagway.
The intent of the project was to allow the state’s two newest ferries at the time — both of which went unused— to operate day trips in Lynn Canal without exceeding the U.S. Coast Guard limit of a 12-hour shift for crew. Anything longer than that would require a crew change, and the ferries were not built with crew quarters to accommodate shift work for longer voyages.
The 280-foot-long, 300-passenger Tazlina and Hubbard, built according to the state’s specifications at the Vigor shipyard in Ketchikan at a combined cost of about $120 million, were completed in 2019-2020. The Hubbard has since been retrofitted to include crew quarters.
“The Hubbard has now been retrofitted to the tune of $17 million,” Norm Smith said during public comment. “It can make the run. That changes the whole narrative of Cascade Point.”
Assembly member Jerry Lapp said the assembly should send a letter to Dunleavy that says the assembly has a lot of unanswered questions that need answering before it could support the project.
“You show us how this is going to help our community,” Lapp said of the letter. “We would like this question answered. It sounds to me like it’s going to be a place they come to let passengers off then they go around to Auke Bay. That does not make any sense whatsoever. You don’t have to be an engineer to figure that out.
During public comment, Gershon Cohen urged the assembly to retract its support for the project.
“In the universe of bad ideas, this one’s probably off the charts.” Cohen said. “Here’s a few reasons. It’s not an exhaustive list. The trip to Juneau will be longer and longer, since we have to transfer shuttle buses, with our belongings and ride an hour into town. The cost of the trip is likely to increase because Gold Belt will be able to charge anything they want for a ticket on the shuttle bus.”
In other assembly news, borough manager Annette Kreitzer told the assembly the results of a speed study conducted in July by DOT after residents were concerned about speeding on Haines Highway near Cathedral View Drive and a section of Lutak Road in the neighborhood before the ferry terminal.
A state engineer collected speed data at both locations and recommended the speed limit be lowered from 55 to 50 miles per hour for 3,000 feet from the 35-mile-per -hour speed zone on Haines Highway.
The engineers wrote that he is preparing a speed order to send to Haines Police and the State Trooper and DOT maintenance will install a new signage.
The engineer recommended that the speed limit go unchanged on Lutak Road.
“This section of Lutak road is a long straightaway and is striped for passing,” the engineer wrote in a memo to the borough. “DOT has been contacted by residents in the area about dangerous conditions resulting from faster moving passenger vehicles trying to get around freight vehicles coming from the harbor. We will restripe this zone to no passing to try and improve safety in lieu of an unwarranted speed reduction.”
State policy instructs DOT staff to measure the speed at which 15% of sampled vehicles are traveling faster as the starting point for determining speed limits.