April 17, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 15

Lightering float fee increase proposed

Using the Port Chilkoot Dock lightering float may be getting more expensive.

The Haines Borough Assembly introduced an ordinance last week that would increase the flat fee 5 percent annually, starting in 2015.

For vessels with a capacity of 10 passengers or more to load or unload passengers for tours or charters originating or ending in Haines, the flat fee will remain at $20 per landing for 2014. In 2015, it would increase to $21; in 2016, to $22.05, and so on until 2019.

Interim borough manager Julie Cozzi, chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart and harbormaster Phil Benner supported the increase.

“The Port Chilkoot Dock doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover its expenses,” Stuart said. “We’re trying to bump up a little bit of the contribution that is being paid by its users.”

In September, the assembly also approved increasing dockage rates for large cruise ships by 25 cents annually for five years. The same ordinance also increased water rates by 50 cents (from $4 to $4.50 per 1,000 gallons of water, plus a $50 service fee).

At its March 25 meeting, the assembly approved a “preferential use agreement” between the borough and the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry for the 2014 summer tourism season. The agreement stipulates a rate of $5 per foot per month.

The longest of the company’s two boats is 77 feet, which totals $385 per month.

The fast ferry doesn’t have exclusive access to the lightering float, though it does have priority use, according to the agreement.

Stuart said she expects the preferential use agreement will lapse next year and the new lightering rates will kick in. “The goal of introducing this charge to the tariff is to generate revenue for the Port Chilkoot Dock. My assumption is we intend to use this for our primary customer, which is the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry, but we have an agreement in place for this year.”

Harbormaster Phil Benner confirmed the new rates will apply to the fast ferry next year. “Of course they (the owners of the fast ferry business) don’t want the increase ever, but the assembly made it clear last year when they increased everything else that they wanted an increase in the lightering float (as well),” Benner said.

Benner called the 5 percent annual increase “a start toward something,” as the Port and Harbors Advisory Committee had initially recommended a $1 head tax on each passenger. “At that time Bart Henderson owned the ferry and he said that would be a nightmare,” Benner said.

The 5 percent annual increase won’t make a considerable dent in the dock’s revenues, Benner said.

“It’ll help a little bit, not a lot. The only thing that is going to help bridge the gap (between revenues and expenditures) at the cruise ship dock is more cruise ships,” he said.

The fast ferry recently switched hands, with former Chilkat Guides owner Henderson selling his share to Alaska Mountain Guides. Tour operators Duck and Karen Hess also own part of the business.

Karen Hess said she has been in conversations with the borough and supports the ordinance. “We think it’s fair and we don’t oppose it,” Hess said.

The ordinance will have its first public hearing Tuesday.