SALEM — What happens when the cruise ships come to town?
An environmental impact report recently submitted to the state sheds light on the city’s plan to bring cruise ships to what is now a coal dock at Salem Harbor Station — and how it intends to deal with the resulting surge of visitors.
Under a deal being worked out with Footprint Power, which owns the site, the 800-foot, deep-water pier could begin hosting cruise ships that are too large to dock at the nearby Salem Wharf as early as October.
The project has been touted by officials who say it will boost tourism, but it has also faced criticism from people who live in the area and worry about it being flooded with visitors. The report said the largest ships allowed to dock would be “medium”-sized, between 500 and 800 feet in length, with a maximum capacity of 1,500 passengers, plus 750 crew members.
“Realistically, however, the majority of vessels visiting Salem will be smaller with approximately 500 passengers,” said the report.
One such vessel, the 650-foot Seabourn Quest, is expected to be the first cruise ship to use the dock when it arrives Oct. 19, during the second half of a 14-day Montreal-to-Fort Lauderdale cruise. Officials say the details of that visit are still being hashed out.
“It’s not a definite,” said Kathy Winn, deputy director of the Planning Department.
Among other things, the dock still needs about $800,000 in improvements. And the agreement permitting the city to use the Footprint dock is still making the rounds for signatures.
Under current plans, cruise ships would generally arrive early in the day and take off again the same day. Most would arrive midweek, not on weekends, though the Quest is expected to arrive on a Sunday.
Aside from cruise ships, so-called “good will vessels” — tall ships or naval craft offering public tours — could also berth at the Footprint dock.