Records reveal DOT planning Berners Bay ferry terminal on Lynn Canal

Documents released Friday through a public records request include these plans for a ferry terminal at Cascade Point. But the project engineer wrote that there are environmental concerns around Berners Bay that would need to be resolved before it could be realized.

The Dunleavy administration is considering a new Juneau ferry terminal 30 miles north of the existing one to accommodate the short-range of the new Alaska-class ferries. It’s part of the plan to ensure day boats can connect Juneau with Haines and Skagway.

The Alaska-class ferry Tazlina is expected to take its maiden voyage next month. It’ll be a day run between Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal and Haines and Skagway.

Because it has no rest areas for crew, Coast Guard regulations require the day boat complete its round-trip run within 12 hours.

But a March 27 Department of Transportation memo released Friday to CoastAlaska through a public records request says the Tazlina won’t be able to make its connections.

“There is insufficient time to conduct a round trip from Auke Bay to Haines and Skagway in less than 12-hours time,” wrote Kirk Miller, a professional engineer at DOT.

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration had unveiled 11th hour plans to add crew quarters to the Alaska-class ferries last year.

But the incoming Dunleavy administration scuttled that $27 million idea.

That magic number reappears in this new plan. Except the money would go toward a new seasonal ferry terminal further north to keep the short-run ferries viable.

The memo says the $27 million project at Cascade Point would erase nearly half of the four-and-a-half hour trip to Haines.

“With the reduced travel time, there can be double the frequency of trips,” DOT spokeswoman Meadow Bailey wrote in a statement. “The project would result in a shorter ferry run, therefore reducing the cost of operating and reducing crew costs.”

The eight-page memo includes a design plans plus a cost breakdown of road improvements required.

Cascade Point is near Echo Cove at the north end of Juneau’s road system. It’s on land owned by Goldbelt, Inc. a native corporation that operates a nearby commuter ferry for workers at the Kensington Mine across the bay.

Southeast lawmakers say they haven’t been briefed. Though others have.
“All we know is rumors and things that are being presented at private groups in the community,” said Rep. Sara Hannan (D-Juneau) whose district includes Haines, Skagway and downtown Juneau.

“My understanding is that the Alaska Miners Association Juneau chapter had a presentation that included information about a new ferry terminal and Cascade Point,” Hannan said. “But the committees on transportation haven’t seen or had any formal communications about it.”

In a letter to CoastAlaska accompanying the memo’s release, Deputy Commissioner Mary Siroky wrote that the agency has the authority to begin the project as part of the legislature’s appropriations for the now-stalled road project called Juneau Access.

The memo does not reference the Dunleavy administration’s proposed budget that would shut down state ferry service in October. Or the $250,000 contract for a private firm to study the Alaska Marine Highway System’s future.

But that controversial contract has yet to be awarded. It’s been held up after the losing consultancy firm lodged a formal protest with DOT alleging the procurement process was unfair and arbitrary.

Details of the the Cascade Point ferry terminal plan first appeared earlier this month in an unsourced report on Must Read Alaska, a conservative blog written by a former spokeswoman for the Alaska Republican Party.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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