My Turn: Harbor board not hiding its actions

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005

I must respond to Katharine Miller's My Turn guest column, "Juneau needs to include public in harbor decisions" (Empire, Jan. 12), about proposed harbor fee increases. Ms. Miller's basic premise is that the Juneau Docks and Harbors Board has been acting in a vacuum by not notifying the public of meetings or of proposals. Her suggestion is that the board has been acting arbitrarily in order to secretly pass fees that are not necessary. This could not be further from the truth.

On Aug. 31, a memo was mailed to more than 1,700 harbor patrons and other stakeholders - this includes those on the wait list, current stall holders, and those receiving monthly statements. The memo was a notice of the upcoming Finance Committee meetings, in October, November, and December, where the topic of budget and fees would be discussed and developed.

This memo came about after deliberations at the August Finance Committee meeting and reaffirmed at the August full board meeting.

By mid-September, the October and November committee meetings had been scheduled to be held in the Assembly Chambers (rather than the Aurora Harbor office). By early October the December meeting was also scheduled. Notifications were put on the city Web site along with the agendas and the minutes of the previous meetings.

Meeting notifications were also posted in the city section of the Juneau Empire, at the harbor offices, and at the Assembly Chambers. Radio public service announcements were also made on the day of the meetings to remind folks to attend. The port director provided voice interviews to KTOO and KINY radio concerning fee changes and the long-term financial plan.

I absolutely agree with Ms. Miller's assertion that public input is essential in developing the many regulations and projects coming from the Docks and Harbors Board. I cannot agree with her assertion that there has not been an opportunity or notification for public involvement.

After three months of consideration and deliberations, in open public meetings, the Finance Committee presented the proposed fee structure to the full harbor board at its Jan. 6 meeting. The board accepted the proposal to go out for further public comment both written and verbal.

The tariff proposal is not hidden. It is available on the city Web site (Jan. 7 memo), as well as the harbor offices and the port office. Supporting documents are available on the city Web site (January board presentation), or at the port office. If you need more information, you can always visit the port director.

The tariff proposal does not include new additions to harbors. The board was forced to focus on infrastructure improvements to perform the basic deferred maintenance needed in the existing facilities to provide for continued use and safe operations. The board wants to ensure that patrons will continue to have a place to tie their boats. Just doing this amounts to a near tripling of current tariffs.

As an example of how the board continues to solicit public input, let us look at the DeHarts marina purchase. The Docks and Harbors Board is negotiating the purchase of DeHarts marina. If that happens there will be a very close look at the tentative master plan for Auke Bay. The board will continue to solicit input from the public as the plan becomes finalized and the project becomes a reality. Ms. Miller contends that the board has not done this and does not plan to do this, yet the Auke Bay plan is an example of the board receiving and acting on public input.

Nobody wants to have their fees increase. The board welcomes suggestions as to how to pay for the necessary repairs and maintenance without unduly increasing fees. I encourage those concerned with the future of the harbors in Juneau to attend the public hearings and the board meetings, especially those who haven't been able to attend the earlier Finance Committee meetings.

• Jim Preston is chairman of the Juneau Docks and Harbors Board's Finance Committee.

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