Port board spurns new panel

Proposal for cruise industry funding agreements also draws fire

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

Juneau's Docks and Harbors Board on Thursday rejected a proposal to give the Juneau Assembly more power over the downtown waterfront.

The board voted 6-1 to table indefinitely a memorandum of understanding with the Assembly to set up a joint Port Development Committee. The new committee - made up of the mayor, three Assembly members and three members appointed by the Docks and Harbors Board - would oversee waterfront planning and development.

Board member Rick Kasnick said he wasn't comfortable voting to reduce the board's authority.

"If this were to be approved ... we would become the Harbor Board, not the Docks and Harbors Board," he said. "If that's the way it should be, let the Assembly change the charter."

Because only three members of the Docks and Harbors Board would sit on the new committee, board member Richard Knapp said the rest of the board would be cut from the planning process.

"From a management and organizational perspective, it sticks in my craw," he said.

But board member Budd Simpson, who helped draft the memorandum of understanding, said a new joint committee could better address "hot-potato issues." He cast the sole vote for the agreement.

"This seems like a way to get something done and have that interface," he said.

A docks and harbors proposal to redesign Steamship Wharf and Marine Park in 1999 would have moved forward if the Assembly would have been involved earlier, Simpson said.

"Let's keep this in context. The Assembly unilaterally established a committee to develop Steamship Wharf-Marine Park (this year)," he said. "We're not a part of it and I think the message got through to the Assembly that it wasn't necessarily the best use of the resources of the board."

Board chairman Loren Gerhard said he supports the concept of a joint committee to deal with waterfront planning, but didn't agree with the proposal as written. The agreement would "end-run" the function of the Docks and Harbors Board, he said. He suggested the board continue talking with the Assembly about ways to improve planning.

Assembly member Don Etheridge, who is a liaison to the Docks and Harbors Board, said the Assembly's original idea was to change Title 85, which empowers the Docks and Harbors Board, but a joint committee arrangement was pursued instead. Waterfront planning involves a variety of groups and interests, and the Assembly thought it should be involved more directly, he said.

"We don't want to admonish you. We think you're doing a good job," he told the board. "But waterfront use ... has grown to a point where we need to be involved to congeal all groups. That was the main reason for moving forward."

But new Docks and Harbors Board member Tim Grussendorf said he had a tough time buying that argument. The new arrangement would give the public one less place to testify, he said.

While the issue wasn't on the agenda, Docks and Harbors Board members also voiced objections to a city proposal to replace cruise ship port dues with project-based funding agreements. Board member Harley Clough said port dues have been used to pay for maintenance and dock improvements.

"Does the Assembly really want to worry about the electrical system at the intermediate vessel float?" he asked. "I wish the Assembly would take a long, long look at what they're doing. I think they're a little mesmerized here."

Knapp, too, expressed concerns about a change in port dues.

"It's OK to have good communication with your customers. After all, we exist to support that," he said. "On the other hand, we have a responsibility to administer docks and harbors to the overall benefit of the city and the citizens. And in order to do that, you cannot depend on voluntary funding from people who are outside to determine whether or not they think this is necessary."

Don Habeger of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska said the overall discussion has come up because port dues expired Jan. 1. The cruise industry will work with whatever organization city officials decide is appropriate, he said.

"This whole process has evolved from inside city government. We're waiting to see which entity they come forward with to continue discussing projects with," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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