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Marine passenger fee projects move forward

Posted: April 27, 2011 - 8:46pm

The list of marine passenger fee projects has been approved by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, with only one change.

The Assembly held a special meeting Wednesday to approve its Capital Improvement Project list, the school district budget and mill levy.

The $91 million school budget, $26 million of which the city funds, passed quickly and unanimously, along with the interest rates for the Gastineau Elementary School renovation, and levy rates for fiscal year 2012.

The issue that took an hour and a half to wade through was the contested appropriations of Marine Passenger Fee use.

Mayor Bruce Botelho asked the Assembly if it would use a different procedure for approving the usage. There was no disagreement.

He first asked if any member wanted discussion or took exception with any other CIP item that wasn’t related to those fees. There was none.

Botelho and City Manager Rod Swope prepared a numbered list of operations and capital projects for which MPFs have been slated to be used for. Botelho asked Assembly members to indicate if they wanted to see a specific number discussed or deleted. In operations, Assemblyman Jonathan Anderson asked about additional summer transit bus service costs for $278,000.

Anderson said that for “some time now” he’s been pushing for a circulator bus from the southern cruise ship docks through downtown. He said it would be good for businesses and downtown in general.

Swope said a consultant looked into that option and it would cost $600,000 just for the buses. Anderson asked if the circulator bus system would cut down on the city’s other downtown transportation costs. Swope said it would not. During the tourism season, the city provides additional busing downtown because cruise ship passengers end up displacing residents in going to non-downtown locations, like Mendenhall Glacier.

Given the cost, Anderson let the matter drop and consented to the summer transit bus costs.

Capital projects saw the most discussion. Seven items of contention were raised: cathodic protection for the AJ Dock, installation of security gates at the AJ Dock, planning and design of two information kiosks at the AJ Dock, corrosion control at the Franklin Dock, retaining wall improvements at the Franklin Dock, analysis of new floating dock to replace existing Franklin Dock and providing cover for the passenger waiting area at the main Franklin Dock.

The biggest issue with capital projects are with funds slated for private docks.

Reed Stoops, representing the Franklin Docks, clarified some misstatements throughout the process.

He said most of the maintenance and repair reimbursement to the dock occurred 10-12 years ago when the cruise ship industry first made the agreements.

“That doesn’t apply to many of the amenities built since,” Stoops said.

He also said many of the projects on the list wouldn’t be done if it weren’t for the cruise ship passengers, as the dock owners would have no financial or other reason to do so.

Stoops also said the contested study for a new floating dock was mislabeled. It was initially called a navigation hazard study, which was already done by the city. Stoops said it’s actually a study for a floating dock concept. Currently, three of the four cruise ship docks are fixed. With the city’s pending 16B cruise ship dock project, that will put three of four as floating docks.

“The Franklin Dock would never propose it be built for marine passenger fees,” he said, adding that there would have to be some sort of city partnership or the city taking ownership. Stoops said it would not be an option for the city to provide the funding and the private entity be the sole beneficiary, the project would have to be for public purpose.

Assemblyman Bob Doll objected to the use of the fees on cathodic protection, installation of security gates, corrosion control and retaining wall improvements. He said these projects are only remotely connected to the passenger and should be in the private dock’s business plans to take care of.

Assemblywoman Ruth Danner said in looking at spending marine passenger fees, they need to consider the safety, health and efficiency of movement of passengers paying the fees. She heavily emphasized the benefit to those who pay the fees.

She said cathodic protection at the AJ Dock would be an improvement for safety of cruise ship passengers, but she said it was very remote to those actually paying the fee.

“There are other better uses for the funds,” she said. “It is important for us to set a standard now and perhaps refine that standard in coming years so the private docks know what they can bring to us.”

Those four items were not deleted from the list, with Danner and Doll in favor of deletion and the remaining Assembly members choosing to keep them funded.

Danner and Doll ended up being the only two in favor of deletion of the contested items except two. On the cover for the passenger waiting area, Danner had raised issue because there was another line item for a cover on the staging area of the Franklin Dock. She had assumed it was a duplication, but there are actually two areas being covered.

Danner and Doll were no longer the sole voices of dissent when it came to funding a study for a new floating dock to replace the Franklin Dock.

Anderson supported deletion because he felt it was premature to have this kind of study before they can see how things turn out with the city dock project.

Assemblyman Johan Dybdahl said they as a city haven’t even decided how they want the rest of the waterfront to look in terms of floating versus fixed docks. He also felt it was premature to have that study.

Doll was leery of it because it could also commit the city to a Franklin Dock project.

Assemblyman Merrill Sanford and Botelho were in favor of keeping the $100,000 on the list, with the rest of the Assembly opposed.

The Assembly then considered a list of MPF requests that were not funded and unanimously chose sending those extra funds to grey water connection and city lift station improvements for construction, engineering, utility easement, permits and design at the AJ Dock. This was partially funded in the initial list, but with the extra $100,000 this means the project needs about $44,000 more to complete.

Dybdahl spoke in favor of it because it could change the cruise ship schedules, meaning more time in port and more passengers spending money in Juneau for more sales tax dollars.

Assembly members had been asked to pick two items from the list. Replacement of the Centennial Hall roof took second place and putting funding toward a circulator bus system came in as a close third.

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

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