Lifelong resident Todd Perdon has watched the moorage fees in local harbors steadily climb over the 15 years he has operated boats out of Juneau, but in recent years, they've taken off.
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"I've seen them skyrocket in the last few years. They're outrageous," Perdon said Thursday afternoon as he tied up his 75-foot landing craft, the David V, piled with goods and groceries bound for Gustavus.
Since the city took over the local harbors from the state in 2003, the Docks and Harbors Board has increased moorage fees to cover the operating costs once subsidized by the state, Port Director John Stone said.
"The capital costs have never been incorporated into the rates," he said. "The capital costs included in harbors are very high - much higher than the costs that are incorporated in the rates."
The board has proposed amending its fees to make them simpler for administrators and less frustrating for patrons, Stone said. A public comment period is open until final action is taken at the board's Nov. 2 meeting in the Assembly Chambers. Public hearings also will be held Thursday and on Oct. 19 in the Assembly Chambers.
The board is looking at doing away with the annual moorage fee for the small boat harbors and replacing it with monthly fees, to take effect on July 1. The downtown and Douglas harbors would have a monthly boat fee of $3.60 per foot and the Auke Bay harbors would be charged $6 per foot. Paying for 12 months in advance would bring a 5 percent discount.
Hearings on proposed port fees and charges
7 p.m. Thursday, assembly chambers.
5 p.m. Oct. 19, assembly chambers.
7 p.m. Nov. 2, assembly chambers.
Comments can be mailed to port director's office at 155 S. Seward Street, Juneau, AK 99801 or hand-delivered to a docks and harbors office.
"In general, the small boats are going to see a cost decrease," Stone said.
The board also is proposing reducing the daily moorage fees in all small boat harbors from 55 cents to 45 cents per foot.
The board is also considering amending the moorage fees for the Marine Park Lightering Float, the Intermediate Vessel Float and the cruise ship docks from $1.50 per foot per day to $2.50 per foot per day for vessels between 65 and 200 feet in length.
"That's most significant to probably cruise ship tourists," Stone said.
Neil Voelckers spent the afternoon at Don Statter Boat Harbor in Auke Bay trying to figure out where to moor his 110-foot lodge boat, the Sea Ranger, for the winter. He said the current moorage fees are overly complicated, making it difficult to figure out what's the most economical place to tie up his boat.
"It's very confusing for me," he said. "My bill is always very confusing."
The moorage prices are also difficult to deal with because they don't seem to reflect the services provided, Voelckers said.
Commercial fisherman William Walder said he has seen the fees continue to increase in Juneau but has watched the quality of service decrease.
"Go turn that water on - it doesn't even work," he said. "What am I paying for? It's stupid."
The services don't match the price of moorage by "a long shot," Perdon said.
"It's hard to stomach when you're trying to figure out what you're paying for," he said.
Walder said he paid about $2,400 in moorage fees last year when he could go to a smaller community and pay an entire year's moorage fee for what it costs in one month in Juneau. The high costs of moorage fees have driven other commercial fishermen out of town, he said.
"They chased everybody out," Walder said. "All my buddies have their boats over in Hoonah and Pelican for the wintertime. That's kind of not convenient when you're a resident of Juneau and you got to keep your boat somewhere else because of the moorage costs."
Stone said commercial fishermen leaving Juneau because of the moorage fees is mostly anecdotal. Juneau still has rather inexpensive fees in comparison to other places, he added.
"Petersburg and Juneau have the highest rates in Southeast Alaska, but we're definitely not the highest in the state," he said.
Kodiak and Seward have higher moorage fees, Stone said.
The moorage fees are much higher nationwide than in Juneau, he said. The average rate in the country is about $7.50 per foot per month, compared to $3.60 to $6 per foot per month in Juneau, he said.
Moorage fees will likely increase in the coming years across the region as communities try to figure out how to maintain aging harbors no longer maintained by the state, Stone said.
"The writing is on the wall," he said. "I just think it is a matter of time before they will be in the same situation. ... They got a couple of choices. They can let the facilities sink or they can choose to rebuild."
Perdon said the perpetual increase in harbor fees inevitably leads to increased costs of the groceries he delivers to Gustavus.
"Those of us who are trying to maintain a livelihood are having a harder and harder go at it," he said.
Because of the high moorage fees, Walder said he will spend most of this winter longlining to make ends meet. "I have to keep fishing so I have a place to park my boat."