Port fees and public process are undergoing some behind-the-scenes slight of hand. Ever since the $0.20 tonnage fee expired Jan. 1, there has been much discussion about how and how much to collect from the cruise ships using Juneau's harbor. There have been at least four CBJ public meetings this past week regarding the issue of port fees vs. project-based funding. This includes the Port Dues Subcommittee, Docks and Harbor Committee, Policy and Planning Committee and, Monday night, the Assembly.
The subject was presented at each of these meetings as if it was still undecided. However, in the Tourism Management Plan that was revealed to the community last week, there was a sample contract for project-based funding with the Northwest Cruiseship Association. That makes it seem like a foregone conclusion. It also makes the recent trip to Vancouver and the confab with NWCA by the CBJ delegation seem like more than just "information- gathering." It was disturbing when it was announced that the Assembly would call an executive session to discuss "strategies for negotiation" with the cruise ship industry. Why is this not an open subject?
Why does NWCA have to be negotiated with? The CBJ has authority to impose a suitable fee to cover proposed projects and maintenance. Why is not the maximum allowable tonnage fee put in place? Revenue sources and selection of projects should remain in CBJ control.
It is very seductive to have the cruise ship industry offer $3.6 million for the Steamship Wharf/Marine Park project. And then they dictate the terms under which they would be willing to provide that money (CBJ kicking in a million-plus from the passenger head tax.) Revenue sources and selection of projects should remain in CBJ control and provide a steady and predictable revenue stream. It is very seductive to have the NWCA hold out that large lump sum, but the Assembly should resist.
The Assembly should not be bought. For those in the community who feel that Juneau has sold out to the tourism industry, a closed session "to negotiate fees" does not inspire trust. Dale Anderson led the opposition to a tonnage fee being reinstated at last night's meeting and moved to table the discussion until April 29. This is the day before the first cruise ship arrives in Juneau. The delay will no doubt give the industry an opportunity to lobby against the unwanted tonnage fee. These political maneuverings do not bode well for any consensus-building implementation of the Tourism Management Plan, which will also come before the Assembly for a final public hearing on April 29. Political muscle should not replace public process.