Cruise industry doesn't support dock expansion

Letter warning city officials of opposition arrives in time for discussion on port projects

Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The cruise industry for the second time this year warned Juneau officials that it does not support planned port expansions in the capital city.

In a letter to Port Director John Stone Friday, the president of the industry organization North West CruiseShip Association wrote that member cruise lines oppose spending money on dock expansions in Juneau now and in the "foreseeable" future.

The letter arrived one business day before the Juneau Assembly was scheduled to meet in a worksession to discuss the Docks and Harbors Board's recommendations to expand the downtown cruise ship docks.

The association said its members support repairs to existing structures, but "no new dock capacity is needed in view of the near- and mid-term outlook for the cruise industry in Alaska," president John Hansen wrote.

The industry, through the Alaska Cruise Association, last month filed a lawsuit against the state challenging $46 out of its $50 cruise ship passenger tax.

The portion being challenged would likely be used to pay for part of Juneau's port infrastructure projects.

The industry has complained the taxes make it more expensive to do business in the state.

After years of study, the Docks and Harbors Board recommended the city pursue what's referred to as Concept 16B among three main ideas for port expansion.

The project would move the city's two existing berths out further into the channel so they could be lengthened to accommodate larger Panamax ships. It would also free up dock space that is now taken up by security fencing.

The project would cost $40 million, according to Stone.

Cruise industry watchdog Chip Thoma called NWCA's position "ill-informed and removed from reality." Thoma's organization, Responsible Cruising in Alaska, sponsored the initiative that imposed the head tax on cruise passengers starting in 2007.

Friday was not the first time NWCA has warned city officials about expansion projects in Juneau.

In April, Hansen wrote to Stone that the city should "exercise extreme caution" with expenses related to cruise ship dock improvements. The letter named "challenges facing cruise and all related aspects of tourism" as a reason for the industry's warning.

In his letter Friday, Hansen blamed "recent increases in taxes and operational costs" arising from the cruise ship initiative for "at least partly" causing a decline in ship visits to the city.

"The industry has been clear that Alaska has become a costly place to do business," Hansen writes. "... The proposal also fails to address very real concerns about the increased congestion that will be created by adding capacity in the proposed location."

Four cruise lines have redeployed ships for the 2010 season, while two others have announced new sailings to Alaska in 2011. The city expects about 14 percent fewer tourists in 2010.

NWCA is based in Vancouver, B.C. It represents the major cruise lines operating in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Hawaii.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or e-mail

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