Wrangell moorage rates could rise for uninsured boats

Boats in Wrangell’s Heritage Harbor (Sage Smiley/KSTK)

Wrangell’s Port Commission voted last Thursday to require that boat owners have insurance for their boats mooring at the harbor — or their fees will increase. The Borough Assembly still has to approve the change before it becomes law.

The proposal comes as harbors across the state face a fiscal crisis, fueled by rising maintenance and repair costs against a backdrop of reduced state funding.

During Thursday’s meeting, two people from the general public spoke in opposition to the proposal while one person supported it.

Chris Ellis, who owns a wooden boat with her husband, said the ordinance focuses on the recovery of potential problems rather than prevention.

“The closest I could get to anything even resembling a quote would be in excess of probably $7,000 a year plus the requirement of a marine survey,” she said. “Our boat isn’t worth that much money.”

She said she and her husband has had a boat moored in the harbor for decades, and if this law passes, the additional surcharge will have a significant impact on their personal life.

“Those of us who, for whatever reason, can’t get or can’t afford insurance are going to have to pay for the people who are causing the problem,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t seem particularly fair to me.”

She thinks the focus should be on prevention, like requiring bilge alarms.

On the other side of the issue, Wrangell resident Ron Johnson supports the proposal.

“The people that have insurance that pay for it and the boats that may tie in next to you that don’t have it,” he said. “What’s to say what covers the person that has insurance that’s tied next to them when that boat sinks?”

Port commissioners were also split on the issue during discussions. Commissioner Winston Davies supported the change, saying other harbors require vessel insurance or a surcharge.

But Commissioner Chris Buness echoed concerns about what kind of insurance would be needed, since that hasn’t been stated in the proposal.

The commission speculated about how many boats are insured in the harbor — officials don’t have an exact number, but they think it’s much lower than expected.

They also discussed possible ways to lower surcharge costs, like special funds and pooling money together for insurance, which could help make the additional costs affordable for everyone at the harbor.

Harbor Master Steve Miller said the City and Borough of Wrangell spends $50,000 on derelict and impounded vessels every year. 

Port Commissioner John Yeager said the harbor already has some of the cheapest rates in the state. and the borough can’t afford to keep spending that money on sunken boats and maintenance repairs.

Yeager said it was time for the commissioners to decide.

“Personally, I feel we’ve exhausted all our efforts in figuring out whether this is good, bad or ugly,” he said. “It kind of ticks all those boxes.”

The commission voted unanimously to send the proposal to the Borough Assembly, where it will be discussed for consideration at its Jan. 23 meeting.

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