Casting off - Page 2

New Alcatraz ferry service leaves unions, environmentalists, and city officials fuming on the dock

After one year of testing the vessel, a second would be built within five years.
That — in combination with a plan to make two initial vessels 90 percent more fuel efficient, as well as implement a clean energy shuttle service on the Embarcadero, power the landing facilities with solar panels, purchase green products, and vend healthy snacks — put Hornblower's bid over the top.
Wiedeman said all bidders are informed that financial feasibility of the company and potential revenue for the government, as well as environmental and sustainability initiatives, were considered. But some criteria were more weighted than others, and Hornblower ranked strongly on all points.
"We're ecstatic," Wiedeman said. "We're looking at higher-quality visitor services from the get-go."
But some doubt whether the proposed vessels are anywhere close to a reality. MacRae said a final design and marine contractor have not been selected yet, although Solar Sailor's model BayTri has been touted. A giant solar-arrayed fin provides auxiliary wind and sun power to the trimaran's diesel engines. No such vessel has ever been built, but the model is based on a smaller solar ferry that services Sydney Harbor in Australia — with a top speed of just seven knots.
The proposed boat is emissions free and could go 12 knots with the aid of the wind, although it would need a push from auxiliary diesel engines to keep up with Alcatraz's schedule. Boats now run between 15 and 19 knots.
The other concern is that MacRae's commitment of $5 million for constructing the 600-passenger vessel might not be enough. The San Francisco Water Transit Authority has been looking into a similar vessel carrying no more than 150 passengers that would cost between $6 and $8 million.
"Their requirements for design are different than what mine would be," MacRae said. "I think it's possible to do it for $5 million."
Bluewater Network founder Russell Long worries that the low-budget cap could hurt the vessel's environmental potential. "We believe that Hornblower may intend to maintain this budget ceiling even if it compromises other aspects of the design, such as best management practices in regard to environmental components," he wrote in a letter to NPS, urging reconsideration of the contract.
NPS awarded the contract anyway and Bluewater is hoping for the best.
"We will be watchdogging the progress and keeping track of what's going on. If it doesn't happen, it will be a huge black eye for the National Park Service, Hornblower, and the city of San Francisco," Schore said. "At this point we have faith that it's going to get built, because it's in the contract."
However, Hornblower's snub toward union contracts and dodgy relations with the city suggest that playing by the rules may not be a top priority for the company.
Since 1974, boats to Alcatraz have run from the Pier 39 area of Fisherman's Wharf, where waiting ticket holders can indulge in the myriad distractions the tourist hub offers.
MacRae launched his new ferry service from Pier 31, half a mile farther south on the Embarcadero, where he currently leases space and operates a charter and dining cruise business.
Pier 31 is little more than a parking lot with a ramp and floating dock, which only sees about 100,000 people a year, far fewer than the 1.3 million annual passengers Alcatraz draws.
MacRae has attractive plans for a complete overhaul of the area, which would include landscaping and sheltered seating, a bookstore, and an informational center. Such alterations would require a thorough run through the city's planning process, which MacRae told the NPS he won't be doing until 12 to 18 months from now.
Instead, interim improvements to the lot were planned, which sparked concern from the city that the sudden increase in foot traffic wouldn't be properly mitigated. That area of the Embarcadero also hosts 250,000 passengers a year from cruise ships docking at adjacent Pier 35.