The Port of San Francisco is pulling out all the stops to ensure its piers will continue to offer ferry service to Alcatraz Island after a controversial proposal to move the embarkation site to Fort Mason was announced earlier this year.
Today, staff will present a report to the Port Commission that outlines efforts to secure a long-term agreement with the National Park Service, which manages Alcatraz as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Port has hosted ferry service to Alcatraz since the former federal prison opened to the public in 1972.
But it's been difficult to reach a new agreement to keep ferry service at Pier 31½ near Fisherman's Wharf, the Alcatraz embarkation since 2006 for the some 4,000 to 6,000 visitors shuttled to the island daily by Hornblower Yachts.
In anticipation of the 10-year contract's expiration next year, the park service is evaluating three sites along The City's waterfront for potential long-term ferry embarkations, including Fort Mason and Pier 41, where service was originally offered under separate contracts with Red & White and Blue & Gold fleets until 2005.
Returning service to Pier 41 is not favored by the Port, as staff noted that selecting that site would displace its longstanding maritime tenant, Blue & Gold Fleet, which operates commuter and emergency ferries. It would not be able to accommodate additional ferry berths for Alcatraz service.
But the site at Fort Mason's historic Pier 3 shed has triggered the most public outcry, with opponents questioning the potential safety and congestion impacts of moving the embarkation site to the federally owned property in the Marina.
While the Port is adamant about reaching a new agreement with the park service, a Feb. 20 draft environmental impact statement from the federal agency noted that Pier 31½ “does not meet the project's basic program requirements and has deficiencies in providing the desired high-quality visitor experience.”
However, plans are in the works to renovate Pier 31½. Changes would include adding two parallel floating docks to allow for an additional ferry berth.
“Port staff believes that maintaining the Alcatraz Island service at Pier 31½ will provide the opportunity seamlessly to maintain ferry operations to Alcatraz Island whether or not the existing ferry operator is awarded the next concession contract,” a May 21 staff report reads.
Howard Levitt, a spokesman for the park service, said the federal agency has been working with the Port to understand the costs of continuing to operate on its sites.