Tuesday, January 11, 2011

America's Cup Could Shutter SF Bay Entrance to Commercial Traffic for Extended Daytime Periods

The proposed San Francisco Bay course for the America's Cup yacht race competition, designed to draw thousands of race watchers to shoreside venues by taking place just inside the entrance to the bay, will also, according to the United States Coast Guard, require shutting down all large commercial shipping in the bay during extended daytime periods for more than a week in 2012 and up to 40 days in 2013.

Organizers of the America's Cup event, who envision using the central Bay region between the Golden Gate, Oakland and Richmond Bridges as a kind of natural arena for race spectators with Alcatraz Island in the center, have asked the USCG to impose tight vessel traffic restrictions for commercial vessel transits through the racecourse during race hours.

According to the United States Coast Guard, the initial proposal by the race organizers would entail halting all large commercial vessels from moving in and out of the bay from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on race days.

The America's Cup events have been approved for San Francisco Bay for 2012 and 2013, though the exact course layout and dates are still fluid. The 2012 portion of the event, where challengers would face off in a competition for the Louis Vuitton Cup and the right to face off against America's Cup defenders, the Golden Gate Yacht Club. The event would return in 2013 for the actual America's Cup competition.

Under the current proposal the 2012 event, and any commercial traffic restriction, is likely to last from nine to 18 days during July or September, and the 2013 event could last up to 40 days.

The Coast Guard is currently in the very early stages of addressing the initial traffic restriction proposal from the race organizers. The federal agency plans to reach out to stakeholders of the shipping industry in an effort to minimize any disruptions the two events may cause to Bay Area commercial shipping. One such event will occur Thursday Jan. 13 at a full meeting of the Harbor Safety Committee of the San Francisco Bay Region. The public meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to noon at the Port of Richmond Harbormaster’s Office located at 1340 Marina Way South in Richmond.

Despite the first race in the bay being nearly 18 months away, the Coast Guard plans to come up with its version of what restrictions may be needed during the race within the next several months.

The Coast Guard plans to use feedback from such events as Thursday's public HSC meeting to help the agency determine its response to the event organizers regarding race day traffic restrictions. Coast Guard officials said that while safety and security will be the number one issue playing into their decisions, the agency is also keenly aware of the potential disruptions such traffic restrictions may have on commercial traffic in the bay as well as the potential for cargo diversions caused by extended closures of the bay entrance.

Roughly eight to 10 cargo vessels a day move through the bay entrance during the summer months headed toward ports such as Stockton, Sacramento, Benicia, Richmond and Oakland, the third busiest container port on the West Coast. While many vessel arrivals occur too early in the morning to be impacted by the initially proposed 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. time frame, a similar percentage of all commercial vessel departures occur in the late afternoon and would be directly impacted by afternoon and evening traffic restrictions.

Organizers of the event claim that the America's Cup could bring as much as much as $1.4 billion into the San Francisco economy and generate just under 9,000 jobs.