Floating dock permit sought

Alaska Cruises files application for Misty Fiords dock

By Leila Kheiry
Daily News Staff Writer

© 1999 Ketchikan Daily News (used by permission)

Alaska Cruises has submitted an application to acquire state and federal permits for an existing floating dock in Rudyerd Bay at the Misty Fiords National Monument.

The application includes a narrative, justifying the dock's existence and the tour business related to the dock, which the state is allowing Alaska Cruises to continue operating during the application process.

One of the main considerations which will decide the success or failure of the permit application is the question of maintaining wilderness versus public access to public land.

In the application, Alaska Cruises says American citizens have a right to visit their national lands, and the Ketchikan-based company provides those Americans the opportunity to experience Misty Fiords with its cruise/fly package.

"Americans, as the owners of Misty Fiords, are entitled to see their property - especially those properties which have special values," the permit application states. "Alaska Cruises provides a convenient and inexpensive method for a considerable number of Americans to see a part of Misty Fiords."

Many of Alaska Cruises' customers are cruise ship passengers, according to the application, and those passengers have a limited amount of time in Ketchikan. If they want to see Misty Fiords, they must be able to do so quickly so they have time for other activities and to return to their ships on time, the application states. Alaska Cruises cruise/fly tour allows visitors to see Misty Fiords in about four hours.

The dock, a U-shaped float, is used to transfer passengers from the Alaska Cruises' catamaran Majestic Fiord to float planes and from the planes to the boat. Through the cruise/fly tour, passengers are able to view the monument from the ocean and from the air.

Alaska Cruises does not have the necessary state permits for the float. State officials say they only recently became aware of the float’s existence, and contacted Goldbelt Inc., Alaska Cruises' Juneau- based company, in June about the situation.

Goldbelt officials say they were not aware the float required a permit when they purchased the business in January. Former owners Dale Pihlman and Cynthia McNulty say they also believed the float did not require a permit because it is a temporary facility, Goldbelt officials said. The float has been removed at the end of each summer season.

After Goldbelt was informed a permit is required, it submitted the permit application.

Serious consideration

Recreational use of the monument is appropriate and that issue will be considered, said Bob Palmer, land management officer for the state Department of Natural Resources. But the U.S. Forest Service and any concerns it submits also will carry weight, he said. A draft central Southeast area plan requires the state to cooperate with the uplands manager -- in this case, the Forest Service – when considering a tidelands permit in wilderness areas.

"Recreational facilities are not appropriate when the management intent ... is to maintain the natural condition of the area free from additional concentration of recreational users or significant evidence of human use," Palmer quoted from the draft plan.

The draft plan also sanctions recreational uses, which would apply to Alaska Cruises' tour business, he said. The main concern is the high concentration of recreational users in one area of the monument - the float.

'The plan doesn't prohibit it, but it tends to steer you away from it," Palmer said.

That doesn't mean the float permit will be denied, he said. The permit process should take about two months if all goes smoothly, and many different factors will be considered.

The application currently is with the state Division of Government Coordination, said Palmer. That division coordinates efforts when federal and state agencies are involved in order to reduce the amount of duplicated documents. The federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, also is involved in the permitting process because the float is located in navigable waters.

Once the coordination efforts are complete, public notice will be posted through the media soliciting public comment. At that time, the Forest Service also will be asked for commentary, said Palmer.

Public use vs. Preservation

Public use is an integral part of a federally designated wilderness monument, said Jerry Ingersoll, Ketchikan district ranger for the Forest Service. However, protecting the wilderness also is important.

"It’s a fine line that we have to walk," Ingersoll said. "We have to simultaneously protect and preserve … while allowing people to use (wilderness areas)."  

The area is set aside for people to experience solitude in a remote, primitive area away from the sights and sound of humanity, he said.

Ingersoll quoted from the Wilderness Act of 1964.

"'Wilderness areas shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness and so as to provide for the protection of these areas and the preservation of their wilderness character. ... Wilderness ... is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled; where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.'" Ingersoll quoted.

"That gives you a flavor of the law that we're operating,' he said, "On the one hand these areas are set aside for use and enjoyment ... (and also are) set aside as areas where people and their activities are not evident. That's the fundamental challenge of managing wilderness.

The Forest Service does not have jurisdiction over the salt water where the float is located. The state owns the waterways and the submerged land on which the float is anchored. 

'We're involved in this only as a neighbor,' he said, "We don't intend to tell the state what to do with their land."

Although Alaska Cruises' tour does not touch wilderness lands, it does affect the wilderness, he said, and the proposal would not be considered if it involved monument land.

"The fact that it is on state tidelands is the only reason it is being considered at all," Ingersoll said.

The Forest Service's comments will reflect the concerns the federal agency has about preserving wilderness. Other users of the area also will be considered in the Forest Service's comments, said Ingersoll.

Forest Service officials have been aware of the float's existence for some time, said Ingersoll. It recently became concern because of increased use, he said. Complaints to the Forest Service about the float were passed on to the state's Department of Natural Resources."

Two months is the minimum amount of time the state expects the permit process to take, said Palmer. Any number of events could delay the process, including appeals from area residents, he said.


More articles:

Dock lacks state permit: Misty Fiords dock operated years without permission (Ketchikan Daily News July 30, 1999)

Floating dock permit sought: Alaska Cruises files application for Misty Fiords dock (Ketchikan Daily News August, 1999)

Tourism clouds Misty Fjords: Enlarged dock stirs access conflict (Anchorage Daily News August 13, 1999)

Misty Fjords tourism debated (Southeast Empire [Juneau] September 1, 1999 Permission to reprint pending)

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