Ballot Measure 2 a sinking ship

Initiative rewards ports competing with the capital, 'Gateway Borough'

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ballot Measure 2 in the Aug. 22 primary election, sponsored by environmental organizations, is unfair to Ketchikan and Juneau - the ports hosting the most cruise ships. Actually, it enhances ports competing with Ketchikan and Juneau.

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The ballot measure proposes a $50 tax on each passenger on a ship carrying 250 or more people overnight. Of that $50, $4 goes to a sea ranger program that duplicates existing regulations and puts a state employee on each ship.

The other $46 goes into a "Commercial Vessel Passenger Tax Account" from which the Legislature allocates funds to ports and other municipalities affected by cruise ship traffic.

The kicker is section 43.52.060. It specifies that any community having its own passenger tax is not eligible for $5 per passenger from the fund unless it gives up its tax. It is unreasonable to believe that Ketchikan will give up its $7 to obtain $5, or that Juneau will give up its $10 fee. That means that ports competitive to Ketchikan and Juneau will receive all of Ballot Measure 2's money.

Earth Island Institute of San Francisco put up $30,000 to hire professional signature collectors to put the measure on the ballot. Other contributors are the Juneau Sierra Club, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and Oceana in Washington, D.C.

One of the two sponsors of the ballot measure listed in the state voter pamphlet is Gershon Cohen of Haines, the manager of C-SAW, the Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters. C-SAW is a project of Earth Institute, a subsidiary of Friends of the Earth, which was founded by the late David Brower after he was fired as executive director of the Sierra Club.

Also financing the ballot measure is Bluewater Network of San Francisco, another Friends of the Earth subsidiary, and Karen Jettmar of Equinox Wilderness Expeditions in Anchorage, a self-proclaimed environmental activist and former officer in the Wilderness Society.

Opponents of the measure are accused of being dishonest in saying that the initiative will attract lawsuits. Litigation is not mentioned in the measure. No, but the bait is jiggled in front of the environmental organizations, their legal staffs and their sea rangers because it specifies that up to 50 percent of any fines collected would go to the complainants.

Lawyers for the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advise that the Act of July 5, 1884, prohibits "taxes, tolls, operating charges, fees, or any other impositions whatever" from being "levied upon or collected from any vessel or other water craft, or from its passengers or crew, by any non-Federal interest, if the vessel or water craft is operating on any navigable waters subject to the authority of the United States, or under the right to freedom of navigation on those waters."

There have been amendments to the law over the years, one allowing fees Ketchikan and Juneau charge for services the ships receive at their ports. Another, enacted in 2002, prevents communities from charging fees on vessels that pass them by, not using their facilities. Ballot Measure 2 would distribute funds to such bypassed communities.

Ballot Measure 2 is an attempt by the environmental community to go after another Alaska industry. They are busy stamping out the remains of the Southeast Alaska timber industry. They are challenging mining and fishing. They oppose road and power intertie extensions. Now cruise ships are the target. In addition to Ballot Measure 2, they oppose construction of a cruise ship dock at Sitka.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney, is listed in the state voter pamphlet as co-sponsor with Cohen of Ballot Measure 2. He also is the legal advisor for Sitkans for a Clear Vote, attempting to block a cruise ship dock.

Currently, ships anchor out and lighter passengers ashore at Sitka. Sheldon Jackson College, Southeast Stevedoring and Shee Atika each proposed a new dock downtown, but their proposals were rejected.

Then the Sawmill Cove Industrial Park Board asked for proposals to build a multi-purpose dock at the old pulp mill site. Southeast Stevedoring presented the best proposal. It went to a vote and was approved 53 percent to 47 percent in 2004. But the anti-development forces said the vote wasn't clear enough and the proposed dock would allow cruise ships. They want a clear vote in an attempt to kill such use. It will be on the October municipal ballot if 700 signatures can be gathered by Aug. 24.

Sitka hosts a strong anti-development core. It opposes a road across Baranof Island to give Sitka more frequent and less expensive ferry service. The attitude is indicated by Mayor Marko Dapcevich, who recently asked cruise line officials: "Would it be possible for cruise ships not to come to Sitka during the Fourth of July?"

To protect our economy, Alaskans must vote no on Ballot Measure 2.

With the above, and the crisis in North Slope oil production, it's imperative that Alaskans elect an aggressive governor with experience and contacts in Houston, Washington, London and many other places to protect and promote Alaska's development. Only Frank Murkowski, with 26 years as U.S. senator and governor, with his roads to resources and a contract for a natural gas pipeline, has those credentials.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.



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