Alcatraz Ferry floats toward new waterfront berth

A facility providing ferry service from the San Francisco waterfront and Alcatraz Island is one step closer to becoming reality, as the National Park Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement Monday.

The final EIS evaluates four different alternative locations for a potential Alcatraz Ferry Embarkation site, with Pier 31 1/2 being the preferred location, according to Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials.

If Pier 31 1/2 were the chosen site, it would allow for additional limited ferry service to the historic pier at Fort Baker in Sausalito and sightseeing cruises to GGNRA parks around the bay.

In addition the proposed embarkation site could also house exhibits, as well as retail and concessions stations, according to GGNRA spokesman Nathan Hale Sargent.

Once established, GGNRA officials believe the facility would provide a high quality visitor welcome and support area connecting tourists to the island and other GGNRA sites as well as the national park system in general, eliminating any kind of confusion and inconsistencies.

Currently, people visiting the island must make reservations through Alcatraz Cruises, the only ferry service allowed to dock on the island. The company currently holds a concession contract for providing service to the island from Pier 31 1/2.

If the proposed ferry facility moves forward, a new contract would be developed with either Alcatraz Cruises or possibly another ferry provider, Sargent said.

If Pier 31 1/2 were chosen as the location, the pier would be expanded to beyond the wharf between piers 31 and 33, to include portions of the adjacent pier structures. The expansion would also include rehabilitating the historic bulkhead buildings along the Embarcadero and constructing a second ramp and float to support ferry travel to other GGNRA sites, GGNRA officials said.

“The National Park Service is pleased to have reached another important milestone to establish a long-term Alcatraz visitor welcome area and embarkation point,” GGNRA’s Acting General Superintendent Craig Kenkel said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing work with our partners, the Port and City of San Francisco, as well as the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, to make this important project reality,” he said.

The Port of San Francisco, which manages the city’s waterfront, tentatively approved the proposed ferry facility at Pier 31 1/2 back in July, according to the GGNRA.

In November, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed the terms for a 30-year use agreement for the embarkation.

City officials and the park service have been working for several years to find a long-term site for embarkation.

Currently, Alcatraz Island attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually, according to city officials.