After hours-long tours up the Stikine River or down to the Anan Wildlife Observatory, visitors to Wrangell in Southeast Alaska often step off the jet boat and ask, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” But Wrangell’s only downtown public restroom facility is a small brown building with just two toilets.
This year, Wrangell Island is expecting around a 50% increase in the number of cruise ship stops compared to last summer — and last summer was pretty packed. Although Wrangell’s city dock can only fit one mid-size or large ship at a time, one day last May saw three ships: one at the dock, and two anchored out in the Zimovia Strait.
“That’s going to put over 1,000 passengers hitting the streets of Wrangell with no place to go potty,” Stikine River Jet Boat Association Executive Director Caitlin Cardinell told borough assembly members at a meeting last April. “The majority of the downtown businesses here do not have public-access restrooms or the capacity to provide for the public.”
Out of the nearly 40 businesses in the downtown Wrangell area, only three have public restrooms, Cardinell said. Two of those establishments are bars.
Wrangell’s local government thinks it has found a solution that will help fill the gap and save the borough money. They’ve purchased two high-end port-a-potty stalls from online auctioneer eBay.
Unlike the recognizable blue or green of regular portable toilets, these stalls are white and have their own sinks. They’ll be connected into the borough’s wastewater system on a corner lot near the city dock, eliminating the need for a truck to pump out sewage.
At a meeting in January, Borough Manager Jeff Good told the assembly that Wrangell won the potty stalls for $3,099, plus just over $800 for shipping. The borough will still need to purchase an accessible bathroom stall as well, he said.
“Hooking [the stalls] into the sanitary sewer system, doing some of the bench work we want to do, and if we put a fence on the backside of it as well, we’re probably into it for around $50,000 total,” Good said. “So saves us a significant amount of money.”
The original cost estimate for procuring new potties was double that, if not more. And speaking of doubles, the new toilets will more than double the number of standalone stalls in Wrangell’s downtown area.
Wrangell isn’t the only Southeast community struggling with seasonal restroom solutions. Sitka, which sees far more tourists than Wrangell, implemented its own temporary solutions last summer and is still on the hunt for a permanent fix to the need for more stalls when tourists are in town.
At the meeting last April, Cardinell told Wrangell Assembly members that dealing with restroom capacity sooner will pay dividends for the community down the line.
“I think this is a really important issue because tourism is one of the top three driving economic industries in this town,” Cardinell stated, “And I believe that if we do it sustainably, we can continue to help that grow.”
Wrangell’s first cruise ship of 2023 is scheduled to arrive on May 11 — the Ocean Victory, which can carry 200 passengers. Borough manager Good says he expects the first two new toilet stalls to arrive in Wrangell in the next few weeks.