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Liveaboards face fee hikes

City may also require approved marine sanitation systems, liability insurance

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2001

Gwen Place, who lives on the 50-foot Ginger in Aurora Harbor, worries a liveaboard fee increase before Juneau's Docks and Harbors board is too much at once.

"I love living at the harbor. I was born on a boat. I've lived on a boat my whole life," she said. "I'd like to see the services we're paying for."

The $17-a-month fee increase doesn't correspond to the services liveaboards receive, Place said. The harbor department isn't removing snow and allows people who don't live on boats to use the harbor Dumpsters. Water costs have gone down this year, she said.

But members of the Docks and Harbors board say a fee increase is necessary and overdue. Under the proposal, the liveaboard fee would increase from $19.14 to $36.74 per month. The schedule also includes increases in moorage, electric rates and launch-ramp fees for liveaboards and other harbor users. uneau has about 133 vessels registered as liveaboards, occupying about 15 percent of the harbor space, according to city Port Director Joe Graham. The number varies month to month, he added.

More than 40 people crammed into a conference room at the downtown library Tuesday to talk about liveaboard fees and a proposed revisions to the city's liveaboard agreement.

It will be the fourth winter Lee Farmer has lived on the Havoc, a 32-foot gillnetter, at Harris Harbor. He worries the city's harbors department is trying to get rid of liveaboards through the fee increase and new restrictions in a proposed liveaboard agreement.

"When you look at what liveaboards provide in terms on neighborhood watch and security, they save thousands of dollars a year. But they can't calculate that, so they don't," he said.

Historically, Southeast Alaska towns were started and have been supported by harbor communities, he added.

"Some of us are just hanging on down here because we've been run out of every form of alternative housing the city has to offer. If they push us out, what are we going to do?" he asked. "This is crazy."

Harbor Board members argue liveaboard fees haven't changed in 15 years. Chairman Loren Gerhard said the liveaboard fee would be $33 today if was changed to correspond with the U.S. Consumer Price Index, a measurement of changes in retail prices.

"Just on that basis, this fee hike is appropriate," he said. "We can quibble over the exact amount, but our costs have gone up. The fee hasn't."

Gerhard said he sympathizes with liveaboards and the contributions they make to Juneau's harbors. But he said the harbors department depends on fees to fund projects and make improvements.

"Most other residents pay for basic services at a much higher rate. ... Admittedly, it's not the same level of service, but it's provided and there's a cost for it," he said. "We think it's fair. If users can convince us otherwise, we have open minds."

An analysis from the harbor department estimates liveaboards account for $48,245 of the $224,700 budget for garbage, water, sewer, early morning snow removal, portapotties and maintenance. The current liveaboard fee generates $31,700 in revenue, the department estimated.

"I'm not buying that people who live on boats don't put a bigger strain on (the harbor) than people that don't live down there," Harbor Board member Harley Clough told liveaboard owners at Tuesday's meeting.

Revisions to a proposed liveaboard agreement also drew objections at the meeting. The new agreement would require that owners have a functioning, approved marine sanitation system and at least $100,000 in liability insurance. Vessels would need to be seaworthy and plastic or canvas tarps would be prohibited in the summer, except with permission from the harbormaster.

Port Director Graham said he expects more discussion about the liveaboard agreement over the next couple of months. In a way, he said he is gratified by the response and interest.

"A lot of people are under the impression that it's a done deal, but it's not," he said. "I think we're going to get a good agreement out of it. If people have concerns about the elements in it, they need to voice those concerns."

The proposed fee changes also would increase annual moorage costs, depending on boat length. As an example, the annual slip rental rate for 32-foot boat would increase from $632 to $688.

Lightering fees for cruise ships would increase from $357 to $500 per 24-hour period. Meanwhile, the city's port dues are set to expire at the end of the year. Discussions among Juneau Assembly members, Docks and Harbors Department representatives and the cruise ship industry are under way.

The Docks and Harbors board meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 27 in Assembly chambers.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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