Representatives of Alaska’s cruise industry are scheduled to discuss the next decade of cruise ship tourism with Ketchikan’s City Council on Thursday. Leaders of the Alaska chapter of Cruise Lines International Association will present their projections and discuss the short- and long-term needs for Ketchikan’s downtown cruise ship docks.
It’s the latest development in a years-long dispute over how Ketchikan can spend the money cruise lines pay to dock downtown. In 2018, a federal judge in Juneau ruled that proceeds from head taxes — the per-passenger fees that Juneau and Ketchikan charge cruise companies to tie up in town — can only be spent on services that directly benefit the marine operations of the vessel under the Constitution’s Tonnage Clause.
In 2020, the council voted down an effort to turn over day-to-day port operations to a private company. Those in favor of the idea said hiring a port operator, which would charge cruise lines to dock and pay the city a fee, would remove some restrictions on the funds, which could then be spent on other needs.
Last year, city officials proposed a change to the way Ketchikan assesses its head tax. A lawyer for the city said that by charging the fee directly to passengers rather than cruise lines, Ketchikan could spend the proceeds on amenities for passengers.
But the council punted on the idea in February 2021 after CLIA Alaska raised the threat of legal action and local tourism business owners spoke out against the idea.
Since then, acting City Manager Lacey Simpson says in a memo that city officials have met with CLIA Alaska representatives four times to discuss “how the City and the cruise industry could work cooperatively to establish and accomplish mutually beneficial goals.” CLIA is scheduled to show the council a presentation it brought to city officials in mid-August.
CLIA Alaska’s meeting with the council could be a step towards resolving the dispute over head tax revenue. Last month, CLIA Alaska and city officials in Juneau announced they’d come to a nine-point agreement that would, among other things, allow Juneau to spend $10 million in port fees on expanding a city-owned convention center. CLIA and city officials heralded the deal as a shift towards a more collaborative relationship between Juneau and the cruise industry.
The council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m Thursday at Ketchikan’s City Hall. The meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and the city’s website. Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in at the beginning of the meeting.