Judge reaffirms passenger fee ruling as possibility of appeal lingers

The Norwegian Bliss prepares to leave Juneau on June 5, 2018.
The Norwegian Bliss prepares to depart on June 5, 2018. The 4,000-passenger megaship arrived in Juneau and other Southeast ports last year. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

A federal judge has rejected the cruise industry’s motion to specify how Juneau can spend revenue earned from its $8 per passenger fees.

Following Judge H. Russel Holland’s December decision that passenger fees can only be used for services to cruise ships, the industry had asked the judge to go further.

The final judgment opens an avenue for either party to appeal. City Manager Rorie Watt said the Juneau Assembly hasn’t made up its mind yet.

“This appears to be a workable ruling from the judge that we think the parties can manage within the constraints that he’s imposed, and we can do it productively,” Watt said. “I think the question is, does CLIAA want to join us in that approach?”

The city uses the fees for projects like building bigger docks for cruise ships, but it also spends them on things like public bathrooms, sidewalks and crossing guards around the downtown cruise ship wharf.

Sidewalk maintenance and crossing guards are two things Holland specifically said would not be a constitutional expenditure of the fees in the December order.

Cruise industry attorney Jonathan Benner said the final judgement makes it clear that the court expects the city to be careful with it how it spends fees going forward.

“We are hopeful that proves to be the case, and we look forward to a period of productive cooperation with the city on these issues,” Benner said.

Holland also declined to address the state’s passenger fee in his judgment, writing that it was not relevant to the case as presented by both parties.

(Jan. 24, 2019, court order from U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland)

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