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Airport fights for share of Marine Passenger Fees

Posted: April 18, 2011 - 12:22am

Since Juneau began collecting Marine Passenger Fees, the Juneau International Airport has been fighting for a share in those funds.

Why would an airport be eligible for cruise ship fees? The airport says it serves those passengers, too.

This year, the airport had to push to stay on the city manager’s list to receive funds.

The airport had developed a formula that used the number of cruise ship passengers in Juneau and a McDowell report figuring how many of those passengers use the airport. Johnson said there were 10,790 cruise ship passengers that flew out of JNU last year. Additionally, 8 percent of the cruise ship passengers use flight-seeing opportunities that launch out of Juneau. Last year, that accounted for more than 70,000 passengers.

What they also don’t include in the formula are the Customs and Border Patrol functions that operate out of the airport, including clearing cargo that goes to ships and clearing crew members going home.

The airport is slated for nearly $160,000 of the $4.6 million in passenger fee proceeds.

Airport manager Jeannie Johnson told the board this week that in the city’s initial formula that designates an allotment for general government operations, the airport was excluded. She believes that was an oversight.

“There is a possibility I will have to go to the Assembly and prove it was an oversight,” Johnson told the airport board. “There is no way they’re going to open that formula back up. Then the cruise industry will want to put it under the microscope.”

Johnson said that while the city Finance Committee did move forward the Marine Passenger Fee proceeds list, there was still skepticism by some Assembly members. She said Assemblywoman Karen Crane felt that the airport shouldn’t get funds to compensate for operations they’re already being reimbursed for. Johnson said she cleared up the misunderstanding — that the airport actually does not get passenger facility fees for float plane passengers on the pond.

Some of the scrutiny at the airport comes from a broader scrutiny by the cruise ship industry, Johnson said. She said the industry has questioned spending funds on downtown crossing guards, downtown cleaning and restroom maintenance. Johnson is referring to a February letter from the Alaska Cruise Association, which among other objections, felt that those services are provided to everyone downtown, not just cruise ship passengers.

“The fact that the services also benefit those passengers who visit downtown (and who, by the way, already contribute to the local economy in a variety of ways) does not provide a basis for charging a fee …,” the letter states.

Johnson also said that the mayor indicated he felt they were “stretching it” in justifying airport allocations.

Johnson said that future years, they may have to stipulate specific projects funds will be going toward. She said this past year funds went into the airport terminal project — specific areas of which were put in to help cruise ship passengers, including a canopy and another doorway.

Board member Jerry Godkin said it’s been a “great source of pain” to consider giving those funds to the airport to balance its budget. Johnson disagrees that those funds are used to balance the budget.

Board member Butch Laughlin said part of the problem is that not all Assembly members are well informed about what the airport provides.

“They’re not thinking what we’re doing at the airport,” he said. “They’re thinking downtown. They’re not thinking we’re a part of it.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com

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