Moving barge ramp to 6-Mile would allow growth in tourism

I want to share my thoughts about the development of Wrangell’s waterfront properties. My opinions are based on the unique experience our family has enjoyed from residing in many Southeast communities.

Raised and schooled in Ketchikan, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in Sitka, banking and serving in my first elective office on the school board in Wrangell and living in Juneau as commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development and then later as governor have given us a terrific opportunity to see change throughout Southeast.

Following service in the U.S. Senate for 22 years, Nancy and I built our home in Wrangell in 2008 and have spent the past 15 years in summer residence here.

The changes we have seen in Southeast over that time are amazing. For example, we have watched the continued growth in cruise passengers in Southeast stimulate economic activity in our smaller communities, including Wrangell. Indeed, nearly all our Southeast communities are in transition toward tourism.

Because of its unique attractions, such as the glacial tours, the Anan Wildlife Observatory, the Stikine River and Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, Wrangell is well situated to become a major tourist site. Wrangell has more unique attractions that are readily reachable by small tour boats than most other Southeast communities.

We must carefully think through the development of tourism in Wrangell. The concerns recently expressed in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka about the negative impacts on residents due to unacceptable levels of downtown congestion from cruise ship passengers must be considered as we grow. It is good that there are discussions taking place on how to limit these impacts in Wrangell.

But I submit that there is clearly one priority, and that is to initiate development as soon as practical. We are all aware of the location of the barge ramp in the downtown area, along with the storage of containers. We should initiate discussions with the barge operator, Alaska Marine Lines, and undertake an examination of just what type of facility is needed and where it should be located as soon as we have a consensus on it.

To better use the space, the suggestion has been made to put a floating dock off a ramp that would be located on the southern end of the City Dock. Similar docks have been constructed in Ketchikan and Juneau. These have the advantage of being pre-built.

Such a facility could provide two small passenger ships on the outside of the dock and the inside would be available for local tour and jet boat dockage. The southern end of the floating dock could have a ramp extending up to a landing in the area between the museum and the shipyard.

The old 6-Mile sawmill site is now owned by the borough, which bought the property last year. There are multiple proposals regarding how to develop this commercial site. The next phase could be transferring The Marine Service Center facilities from the current location to 6-Mile, leaving open the shipyard area for shops and community attractions that would appeal to cruise ship visitors.

Funding for the projects could be available from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. It’s also likely that federal funding could be available. The fact that the City Dock, 6-Mile property, former Wrangell Institute property, as well as the shipyard property are free of debt should provide a lender with adequate collateral. Repayment would come from occupancy and wharfage fees of both projects.

I encourage the community to be excited about the prospects for Wrangell’s future. The key is to initiate and prioritize the segments without delay. It’s going to take initiative, energy and commitment of community leaders who believe in the potential of the community. Let’s start with the barge terminal and move up from there.

Frank H. Murkowski is a former governor (2002-2006) and former U.S. senator (1980-2002) from Alaska.


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