Jeramey Jannene

Port Wins Grant to Upgrade Cruise Ship Dock

City anticipates 2022 return of Great Lakes cruises.

By - Jun 4th, 2021 12:18 pm
Viking Octanis rendering. Image from Viking Cruises.

Viking Octanis rendering. Image from Viking Cruises.

Viking Cruises remains on track to begin offering Great Lakes cruises in 2022, using Milwaukee as a turnaround point 10 times and bringing in an estimated 8,000 passengers annually.

But Milwaukee’s South Shore Cruise Dock needs upgrades and repairs to accommodate the Viking Ocantis, a brand new, 665-foot, 378-passenger cruise ship.

That includes the $625,000 design, acquisition and installation of “breasting dolphins.” The free-standing structures are used for mooring (securing) a vessel, preventing it from pushing against the pier or drifting away.

Port Milwaukee secured a $500,000 Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Harbor Assistance Program grant to pay for the majority of the project.

But it’s not the only need. The port originally sought $2 million from the state program for the project with a $500,000 local match.

“Ideally, the Port could invest another $1.875 million at South Shore Cruise Dock,” said port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht via email.

The first Viking Ocantis visit to Milwaukee is expected in April 2022.

What happens if Tindall-Schlicht doesn’t find the money in time?

“If the January 2020 flood recovery, growing the Port commercially during the pandemic, and the remediation of the Harbor Seagull has taught me anything, it is that my staff at the Port are scrappy and bring a ‘can do’ attitude to work every day,” he said. “Come what may, the Port will be ready to receive Viking, Pearl Seas, and other cruise passengers from around the world in 2022.”

Pearl Seas, the other cruise ship line regularly docking in Milwaukee, has a 20-year lease for priority use of the city’s other cruise ship dock at Pier Wisconsin. The lakefront facility is also home to Discovery World.

Using its Pearl Mist vessel, the company intends to bring up 210 passengers per trip (420 per turn) to Milwaukee.

Both Pearl Seas and Viking intend to use Milwaukee for turnaround service. The service is desirable for host ports, as it has one trip ending and another starting, doubling the number of passengers and likely  increasing local spending.

To accommodate the surge in cruise business the Board of Harbor Commissioners approved $183,930 acquisition of a portable X-ray scanner.

“Much like the airport has the TSA, the port has the U.S. Coast Guard,” said port development representative Jazmine Jurkiewicz in December when the purchase was debated. “The model we have used to date will no longer be effective with the growth we are expecting.”

Port security officials, on the dock in open air, have opened every bag and conducted a visual security search. That process takes longer and is more intrusive for passengers.

“It’s pretty clear if we don’t do anything like this we are not going to have any cruise ships,” said Commissioner Ron San Felippo, citing guidance from the Coast Guard.

The new scanner will be used on both docks. The Pier Wisconsin dock is adjacent to Downtown at the eastern end of E. Michigan St. The South Shore Cruise Dock is at the south end of the port, adjacent to the Lake Express High-Speed Ferry terminal at 2330 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr.

A resolution authorizing the WisDOT grant’s acceptance is pending before the Common Council.

The port reported 3,214 passenger visits through 10 cruise ship visits in 2019.

No Cruise Ships in 2021

The Canadian government and an 1886 United States law are effectively preventing any cruise ships from plying the Great Lakes in 2021.

International travel into Canada is only allowed under very limited circumstances currently, with a blanket restrictions on ships with more than 100 passengers. And simply dropping the Canadian ports from an itinerary doesn’t work because of a protectionist trade law.

The 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), similar to the Jones Act, requires that trips directly between U.S. ports be made only by American vessels.

The Pearl Mist is registered to the Marshall Islands, a small country near the Equator. All of the major Great Lakes cruise ships are foreign vessels.

The federal government adopted the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act earlier this year, waiving the PVSA restrictions for Alaskan cruises. Tindall-Schlicht told Urban Milwaukee he doesn’t expect a similar waiver for the Great Lakes given the difference in scale of the markets.

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Categories: Transportation

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