City Manager talks about Cruise Ship litigation

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) Rorie Watt compares the legal battle with the Cruise Lines International Association as a ball of spaghetti.

    The case is complicated with very many issues, opinions, and impacts.

    Watt said tax policy, municipal service, litigation is just an ordinary day at City Hall.
    “That’s what we do.  Sweating the details on equity and tax policy.  Perfectly normal for us.”

    Watt said litigation and criticism is also normal for government officials.  He said local government should be deliberative and should listen if they do something poorly.  “If we do it well, stand back, reaffirm, and keep doing it.”g

    Watt spoke to the weekly meeting of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

    He said the litigation takes into account things like strategy, services and levels, revenue sources, public information, practicality, tax policy, application of the judge’s order, decision timing, political considerations and complications.
    “We have chosen to stay quiet on this case, we have chosen not to litigate through the media.”

    Watt said don’t give into the cruise ship industry is something he hears from residents.  He hears don’t get pushed around by a multi-national company.  Of course these comments come from layman with nary a day of legal training.  It is the law and the constitution that carries the day, not feelings.

    Juneau has had cruise ship coming to Alaska for well over 100 years.  In an analogy with boxing, Watt said there are no winners and losers in this case.  So far nobody has been knocked out.  “If you want winners and losers, CLIA argued the fees should be found unconstitutional and there should be an injunction, we should be stopped from collecting the fees.  The Judge said we could still collect them.  The fees are not for general revenue purposes.”

    The Judge found no expenditure so far was unlawful.  He did write is it likely that spending these fees for crossing guards would not be legal.
    Juneau fees must be a service to the vessel.  The CBJ wanted them to also be for services that benefit the passengers.
    “We didn’t’ get what we wanted.  CLIA didn’t get what they wanted.  It’s a split decision.”

    Still to be resolved is the question what is a service to the vessel?

    Is it a gangway or a dock, or is the definition broader?

    The CBJ introduced an ordinance on the Archipelago property this week.  The manager’s report tried to define what service to a vessel means.  Ships have increased by 44-percent and passengers by 182-percent since a new dock was built downtown.

    Watt argued that the project will provide services and allow the cruise ship industry to expand the number of tourists it brings to Juneau.
    “We are advancing the argument that this project is a service to the vessel.”

    Watt argues that the CBJ must do a good job managing the waterfront and providing service to the visitor industry.  “We must do a good job so that people who come here go back to Kansas, say Juneau was great, and put it on Trip Advisor that Juneau is really nice.”

    He also mentions local control and Juneau itself should decide the level and quality of services and infrastructure.
    “It is our waterfront.  We don’t want to cede local decision making and control.”

    The city owes $30 million in debt from constructing cruise ship docks.  It was an investment for the future.  
    Watt said people that are creating the need for government services should pay for the services.
    The cruise ship industry has alleged that the CBJ has violated the constitution.   The CBJ can’t collect property taxes on ships.  They also don’t charge sales taxes for onboard sales and services.

    The CBJ built the sea walk and island with marine passenger fees.  They did not build the whale with these funds.  

    The Cruise ship industry has asked the Judge to revisit the entire issue.  The CBJ asked the Judge to finalize his draft order.  
    The CBJ Finance Committee is expected to discuss the issue on February 6.
    The CBJ currently spends about $3 million per year to serve cruise ship passengers.  One of those is a downtown ambulance to provide EMS service to patients.

    In other items of interest at the luncheon;

    Assembly member Wade Bryson is now a published author.  He will hold a book signing for his book, Minimum Wage to Millionaire, on January 24 at 6 pm at Hearthside Books in the Nugget Mall.

    Wayne Jensen of the Alaska Committee said the annual legislative reception was an overwhelming success.  He thanked all those that donated to the event.

    Next week Assembly member Loren Jones will talk about Alaska marijuana laws at the Chamber luncheon at the Moose Lodge.  Doors open at 11:30 am.

    More from News of the North

    Current Conditions

    Crude Oil Price