After considering a fee increase for cruise ships Thursday night, the Docks and Harbors Board decided instead to provide a discount for vessels lightering short-term in Juneau.
The board took the advice of the cruise ship industry and decided not to recommend raising the lightering fee. Instead, it cut the port maintenance fee in half for vessels lightering less than three hours. It did not provide an exact figure for the new port maintenance fee for these vessels.
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The decision will be passed on to the city attorney's office for presentation to the Juneau Assembly for final approval.
Port Director John Stone had suggested raising the lightering fee - which covers anchoring in the channel and shuttling passengers to and from shore - from $600 to $1,000 and eliminating a port maintenance fee to offset the increase.
The city has been charging five and a half cents per ton to all lightering operations regardless of how long they use the dock, he said.
"This came about because the vessels that were using it for a couple of hours were paying that five and a half cents per ton, which amounts to a couple of grand per use," Stone said. "So that's a pretty big chunk of money."
Representatives from the cruise-ship industry spoke against raising the fee at Thursday's meeting, saying it would shift the costs to companies that are not lightering short-term.
"It kind of backfired on us," Drew Green of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska told the board before its action. "We were looking for a discount and we got a rate increase."
He said a discount for short-term lightering would have positive economic impacts for Juneau.
"If there's a discount in some way, you'll actually have more business in the port of Juneau and attract more folks to the downtown area," Green said.
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Kirby Day of Princess Cruises said the Juneau lightering fees are in the "right ball park" compared with Sitka and Ketchikan, adding that it should not be raised.
"At the face cost, it doesn't make sense," he said.
Day said raising the fee would not be a "revenue neutral" move and that the board should lower the port maintenance fee if it wanted to give the industry a discount to get more passengers off cruise ships earlier.
The board listened to the industry and chose to cut fees, rather than raise them.
"Hopefully this will work for them," said board member Jim Preston, adding that the industry brought up the idea for the incentive.
Stone said changing the fee would not cost the city any lost revenues at this point because there are no vessels scheduled for short-term lightering this summer. He said if a cruise ship arrives in Juneau earlier than its port call, this fee change would give those vessels a chance to get passengers off the ship before its berth is ready, without having to pay such a large fee.
"That would be the situation where they would get a bunch of passengers to our facilities and then move to the berth once that berth is clear," he said.
The average port maintenance fee averages out to about $2,500 to $3,000 per cruise ship, Stone said. Cutting the fee in half for short-term lightering would average about $1,250 to $1,500 per vessel.
"As far as revenue impact, we have 31 confirmed lightering this summer that are more than three hours in duration, so we are going to generate approximately $90,000," he said.
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