Riverboat company owners dispute back-rent decision

Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

FAIRBANKS - An ongoing dispute between a Fairbanks tourist attraction and the state is no closer to being settled after the company appealed a new fee proposal from the state.

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The state Department of Natural Resources wants to charge Alaska Riverways for the company's use of an acre of land on the Chena River.

A state decision released last month calls for Alaska Discovery to pay 25 cents per passenger for its dock and three boats to use the shoreline. The state also would collect $15,000 for back rent since 1995.

The state, which owns the riverbed, says the lease for the acre of riverbed should be $30,000 to $75,000 based on that per-passenger charge.

The state estimates Alaska Riverways carries 120,000 to 300,000 passengers a year; the company won't release how many passengers it has.

But Alaska Riverways President Ryan Binkley says that figure is way too high and appealed the decision Thursday. The company also claims the lease request is arbitrary, unjustified and illegal.

Binkley says they shouldn't have to pay a lease at all because its docks don't actually touch the river's bottom. But it says it's willing to do so in order to be a good neighbor.

"We were willing to enter a lease, and I'm willing now," said Alaska Riverways president Ryan Binkley, "but not one that's unfair."

The company says it will pay the fair market rental value, which an appraiser set at $992, and $15,000 in back rent.

The department's decision is on hold while the DNR commissioner reviews the appeal.

The per-user fee is backed by state law, based on fees charged by other government agencies, and "reflects the commercial benefits gained from the use of state land," the department wrote in its decision.

A Holland America vessel on the Yukon River already pays a 25-cent per-head fee, and Greatland River Tours, which runs cruises on the Chena, is supposed to start paying one this summer.

Chris Milles, the department's northern regional manager, said if the state loses with the Discovery, it might not be able to charge the other two businesses by the passenger.

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