Moffatt & Nichol's ore dock modification recommendation.

Moffatt & Nichol’s floating dock recommendation. (Moffatt & Nichol)

Perhaps the most pressing piece of infrastructure on Skagway’s wish list right now is a new floating dock. It would enable the city to accommodate bigger cruise ships expected to sail the Inside Passage in 2019. Because the timeline is so tight, there’s some question about whether the city should build a dock  suited solely for cruise ships, or one that could be used for industrial business as well.

The port commission was tasked with outlining a request for proposals which would get the ball rolling on design work for the crucial floating dock.

“I mean we could keep it simple,” said port commission chair Tim Bourcy at a recent meeting. “Obviously the primary goal is to have a primary floating facility that is appropriate for the cruise business.”

The commission talked about how keeping the project streamlined to just a cruise dock might expedite design and engineering work. But they and other city leaders are interested in making the project dual-purpose. Meaning, building a more robust dock that could handle industrial shipments.

The commission considered including both options in the request for proposals.

But that would put more work on interested bidders. Shaun McFarlane’s employer, Moffatt & Nichol is one of them. He said that might slow down a process that is already cutting it close.

“I think you run out of time, when you start looking at the schedule,” McFarlane said.

Moffatt & Nichol has been working with the city on short-term port planning for several months. The consultants said to get the floating dock in place by 2019, design work should start this fall. Essentially, it would be best if the city got to work yesterday.

“I think that you’re probably on a timeline where you’re not going to get it started until after Christmas already,” McFarlane said. “And then to insert another piece of planning work…into the process, that probably is another five to six weeks effort, in which case you’re probably not getting into design until March.”

The commission wondered whether trying to build the dock for industrial use was asking too much within the limited timeframe. But Bourcy said these short-term projects sometimes end up being in place for decades.

“So I would lean more towards building it to the higher standard, designing it to the higher standard, and go that route,” Bourcy said. “And then at lease we have something that has additional potential to move within the port or be more multi-purpose.”

The commission voted to recommend the assembly put out an RFP for a dual-purpose floating dock. The plan favored by port consultants would place the new facility on the south end of the existing ore dock.

There are still a lot of questions. The city needs permission from White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to build the dock. White Pass holds a lease for the area until 2023. The company asked for a new 15-year lease in order to cooperate on the facility. The city is in negotiations on that contract, which will be subject to a public vote.

And then there’s the question of what the cruise schedule for Skagway will even look like in a few years.

Port Commissioner Steve Hites is frustrated at the city’s inability to access ship schedules for 2020.

“We are sitting here attempting to make decisions that cost the community tens of millions of dollars and we don’t’ have access to that,” Hites said.

But McFarlane, the port consultant, said other Southeast ports are in the same boat. He said cruise lines don’t tend to release schedules more than one season in advance.

If lease negotiations with White Pass work out, the two parties plan to split the cost of the floating dock. According to expert estimates, it will cost at least $14.5 million.