The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly gave its assent Monday evening to an ordinance authorizing a bond issue of up to $29 million to help pay for new cruise ship berths in downtown Juneau, but the vote was not without controversy.
Linnea Osborne, whose family has appealed Planning Commission approval of the cruise ship berth development project often referred to as “16b,” testified against the ordinance and the project.
“The cruise ship industry has publicly stated twice… they do not support this project,” said Osborne, who asserted port development fee revenues to pay down the bond debt would affect fishermen and others.
Osborne added, “In addition to that, we don’t think Juneau can afford this project. … The whole project lacks transparency, and we shouldn’t be on the hook.”
Larry Spencer, president of the Downtown Business Association, argued in favor of the ordinance.
“I understand that there’s still some controversy involved, but no matter what the final project looks like, it’s going to require this $29 million to bring it to completion,” Spencer said.
In reference to the fee slated to be used to pay down the bond debt, Assemblymember Jesse Kiehl asked Finance Director Bob Bartholomew, “Who pays the port development fee?”
“Currently, the port development fee is the fee that’s assessed on the users of the major docks in the port,” Bartholomew replied. “If there’s anybody outside the cruise ship industry that uses the large public docks in the port, they would be subject to the fee.”
Bartholomew said the fee is not assessed on users of Juneau’s harbors.
Kiehl appeared to be satisfied by Bartholomew’s answers.
But Assemblymember Ruth Danner asked Bartholomew whether the city had “exhausted” other potential funding sources.
“We have not specifically gone out to the financial community to determine the interest of sources, that who would be interested possibly in investing in the infrastructure,” Bartholomew answered.
Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker echoed Osborne’s arguments in his brief explanation of why he was voting against the ordinance.
“I’m not able to support 2012-28 for several reasons,” said Wanamaker, referring to the number of the ordinance. “The first is the high cost of the project. The second and third are the lack of support for the project by industry and the public in general. And I have concerns about the uncertainty of the funding mechanism over the long term.”
Assemblymembers Danner and Johan Dybdahl joined Wanamaker in voting against the ordinance, which passed 5-3. Deputy Mayor David G. Stone recused himself due to a conflict.
Debt service on the “private activity bonds,” which is estimated to total nearly $42.4 million, would be paid for by port development fee revenues from Fiscal Year 14 to Fiscal Year 33.
The Assembly also acknowledged at its meeting the retirement this Friday of longtime CBJ employee Cynthia Johnson from the Division of Lands and Resources. The Assembly, staff and members of the public gave Johnson a standing ovation.
Several other ordinances, including an amendment to the Land Use Code allowing more flexibility in considering rezoning requests, also passed.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.