The Juneau Assembly decided not to revisit a new cruise ship passenger fee for port projects on Monday, but will schedule discussions to re-examine the charge.
The Assembly approved a new $1.73-per-passenger port development fee two weeks ago after months of discussions with the cruise industry about funding port projects. The revenue is to be used for the Steamship Wharf-Marine Park redesign, a long-term waterfront development plan and preliminary design for a dock extension. The fee took effect May 15.
Representatives from Princess Cruise Lines, Franklin Dock Enterprises and Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West objected to the fee Monday, citing legal considerations.
Moreover, a response from the North West CruiseShip Association on Monday indicated the cruise lines were interested in an "interim year fee" to apply to city docks only. The cruise industry wants to hold off on the Marine Park-Steamship Wharf redesign for one year to pursue a long-range waterfront plan, Mayor Sally Smith said.
The move would give the cruiseship association "breathing room" to work out a project cost-sharing arrangement among its members, Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said.
A motion to reconsider the $1.73 port development fee failed on a 5-4 vote. Assembly members Jeannie Johnson, Frankie Pillifant, Jim Powell, Marc Wheeler and Smith voted no. Ken Koelsch, Randy Wanamaker, Dale Anderson and Don Etheridge voted yes.
Smith said she will call a meeting of the Assembly's port dues subcommittee as soon as possible to write a new resolution and talk with interested parties.
"As reluctant as I am to do it, we need to go back to the drawing board, talk to the Downtown Business Association about their feeling about waiting another year," she said. "My personal feeling is that I would love to see the waterfront plan designed first, but I would also like to get the congestion problem taken care of."
When the Assembly approved the new fee, Johnson described it as a compromise between the city's old tonnage fee and industry-favored project-based funding agreements. She said Monday that additional work is warranted, but the Assembly didn't have enough information to begin changing things right away.
"I think there are some glitches," she said. "I think we need a 30-day period for everyone to put input into it and try to make it better."
Koelsch said he supported reconsideration.
"I've hit my frustration level," he said. "I'm willing to consider lots of options if we get it back again."
Kirby Day of Princess Cruises and Tours asked the Assembly to look again at the fee. Princess will gladly pay a port development fee when it uses the city's dock, but not when its ships are docked at a private facility, he said. Most Princess ships use the private Franklin Dock.
"We feel strongly that it was inequitable, unfair and probably illegal," he said. "Nowhere else do we pay a facility use charge for a facility we don't use."
Juneau attorney Eric Kueffner, representing the privately owned Franklin Dock Enterprises, told the Assembly the new fee raises constitutional questions because a municipality is charging cruise ships to use a private dock.
"Our customers are potentially going to protest and we'll see what happens," he said.
Franklin Dock Managing Partner Reed Stoops added that the new fee puts his dock at a competitive disadvantage with the city.
Smith said she understands the private dock argument, but some of the cruise lines use city amenities when they tie up at private docks.
"If they're not docking at our facility, they've got a legitimate beef not to pay for the dock they don't use," she said. "That's the tonnage fee, but you go into the other realm of the other amenities around the community. You end up with tiers of how to deal with it. How do you make this happen appropriately so that everyone's paying for the things that they use?"
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.
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