TREE LIGHTING – Sitkans gather next to a decorated spruce tree across from City Hall Saturday. Scores turned out for the Chamber of Commerce’s holiday celebration that included caroling, a tree lighting hosted by Mrs. Santa Claus, and remarks by Chamber of Commerce member Loren Olsen and City Administrator John Leach encouraging people to shop in town during the holiday season. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Dock Owner, Cruise Line Sign Deal

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

As one of the world’s largest cruise ships arrived at the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal today, the terminal owners announced a long-term docking agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

“It ensures they have a place to bring their ships and additional ships to Sitka for the future,” said Chris McGraw, manager of Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal.

Halibut Point Marine, which is owned by McGraw’s family, is majority owner of the cruise terminal.

The massive Ovation of the Seas, a ship longer than 11 football fields end to end, arrived today at 7:45 a.m. and was to be here through 5 p.m. On this cruise the ship was sailing with about 1,500 passengers, less than half of its regular 4,200 capacity because of the COVID mitigation measures set by Royal Caribbean.

McGraw said the number of visitors as a result of today’s announcement, as well as a new plan for weekly visits by Norwegian Cruise Lines, may bring the total number of visitors next year to 460,000.

The figure is significant because the previous estimate of 400,000 was high enough to prompt concerns by the Assembly and to spur a project by the Planning Commission to address the infrastructure needs, transportation and scheduling plans for the massive increase over past years, when the highest number was 289,000 in 2008.

The announcement of the deal with Royal Caribbean comes a week before the Assembly takes up a lease agreement with Shee Atika Inc., which is working with  Adventure Sitka to build a visitor attraction on a 17-acre tract of city land at 4951 Halibut Point Road.

Adventure Sitka is owned by Halibut Point Marine Services and Latitude 49, which is affiliated with Alaska Coach Tours, McGraw said.

McGraw said the arrival of the Ovation of the Seas today is significant because it marks not only arrival of one of the “most innovative ships” but also the formal completion of the cruise terminal’s dock expansion. He said it is “phase one” of a significant port expansion that will position Sitka as a premier port in Alaska.

 

The 1,142-foot cruise ship Ovation of the Seas is pictured behind Allen Marine’s Sea Lion Express and the 132-foot yacht Zenith this morning at the Halibut Point Marine cruise dock. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which owns the $940 million ship that can carry 4,180 passengers, entered an agreement with the dock’s owner to make regular calls in Sitka during future cruise seasons. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson) 

The dock is majority owned by Halibut Point Marine Services, with financing support and minority ownership by Royal Caribbean Group and Ceres Terminals Inc. RCG is minority owner of the dock facility, and has no ownership in the Shee Atika-Adventure Sitka project, McGraw said.

The 1,100 foot dock can accommodate two of the “neo-panamax” cruise ships at once. Holland America Cruise Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas will share the space most Wednesdays for the rest of the season, McGraw said.

Next season McGraw is expecting to see Ovation and Serenade, as well as the Celebrity Cruise ship Eclipse, which has a capacity of 2,800 passengers. Celebrity is part of the Royal Caribbean group.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss will make regular calls on Mondays next summer, McGraw said.

The agreement with Royal Caribbean alone will bring 200,000 passengers a year to Sitka, and McGraw is expecting to see large ships calling in Sitka five to six days a week.

Predictions of as many as 460,000 cruise visitors next year will take Sitka to a different level, McGraw said.

“It provides a consistent flow of ship traffic to the facility and allowed us to expand the facility to meet the needs of the cruise lines and the new ships they’re deploying to Alaska,” he said today. “It means cruise lines are invested in our community and value us as cruising comes back.”

McGraw said the community can expect the lines will be “eager to work with the community to ensure the growth is done responsibly.”

The Assembly passed an ordinance on first reading at its August 10 meeting to authorize a 20-year lease for the 17-acre parcel to Shee Atika, which is working in partnership with Adventure Sitka, McGraw’s company. The vote was 4-2.

Assembly member Kevin Knox, one of the four yes votes, said today’s announcement may change his thinking on the lease.

“I’m going to need a lot more information from both the group that wants to lease that land and the cruise industry of what they are planning,” he said. “I need more details before I can move forward on anything right now.”

When asked for a comment, City Administrator John Leach said the McGraw-Royal Caribbean deal is a private agreement.

“The City and Borough of Sitka will continue to be welcoming and accommodating to tourists and cruise passengers visiting Sitka but we have an obligation to the citizens of this special place to ensure Sitka remains a special place,” Leach said by text. “The tourism planning group is doing great work with our local stakeholders to ensure tourists can travel to and visit our downtown area while maintaining our downtown feel and addressing capacity concerns appropriately.”

The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal announcement came with a statement by top officials of Royal Caribbean:

“As we look beyond this year’s partial Alaska season, we are more optimistic than ever that our guests will absolutely love the authentic experiences Sitka offers with its rich culture and awe-inspiring wilderness,” said Joshua Carroll, vice president, Destination Development, Royal Caribbean Group. “This partnership exemplifies our strategy to support sustainable development that is majority-owned by Alaskans to bring maximum economic impact to the local community.” 

The news release said the partnership investment extends beyond enhancements at the port to extensive planning efforts in collaboration with local stakeholders and industry experts.

“Plans will focus on transportation capacity, visitor traffic flow and opportunities for more tours and destination experiences that will benefit both residents and visitors alike,” the news release said. “New kayak tours and the introduction of Alaska Coach Tours to manage land transportation are key examples of the work of community partnerships.”

The visit by today’s cruise ship got off to a good start, commented McGraw, with arriving passengers greeted by the sight of a bear crossing the top of the dock along the water as the ship pulled in to port.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 12-3-21)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:21 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 312

Total statewide – 146,558

Total (cumulative) deaths – 853

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,117

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The COVID alert rate for Sitka is “high,” based on 13 new resident COVID cases in the past 7 days, a rate of 152.52 per 100,000 population. Case statistics are as of Thursday.

New cases in Sitka – 2

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 1,142

Cumulative non-resident cases – 102

Unique positive cumulative test results in Sitka, as of 11/26/21 – 1,266

Deceased (cumulative) – 5

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

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20 YEARS AGO
December 2001

Photo caption: Cathy Hanson shovels snow off the sidewalk in front of Russell’s today. What started as a few flakes Monday evening had mounted to an estimated half-foot by noon today. More was forecast but rain is possible Wednesday.

50 YEARS AGO
December 1971 

Several fish fatalities resulted Monday night when a car apparently went out of control, ran off Halibut Point Road and slammed into the rear of Sitka Petland Store. Vibrations shattered fish tanks, and several hundred dollars worth of tropical fish were casualties.

 

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