The Hapag Lloyd cruise ship Bremen anchored near Petersburg’s Sandy Beach Park in July, 2017. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly plans to hold a work session on the possibility of charging a passenger fee for cruise ships visiting the borough. Some assembly members want to look into the possible new source of revenue that could fund some dock and harbor improvements. The assembly Monday also voted to inquire about state-owned lands at Papke’s Landing, about 10 miles south of town.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci has been trying to gauge interest among his colleagues to impose a fee on passengers coming to the area on cruise ships each summer.

“As the borough assembly we might have a work session one night just to chat about the pros and cons of this issue and to see if it’s a good thing for Petersburg,” Meucci said. “I don’t want the cruise ships to not come to Petersburg because of this. But as far as I can tell talking to the people who are in the visitor industry this is not going to dissuade people from coming to Petersburg. They love this place. They’re paying a whole bunch of money to travel through the Inside Passage, they’re using the Kupreanof dock, they’re using… They’re going to LeConte, they’re going over to Thomas Bay, they’re heading over to Farragut Bay and they go ashore and I think the assembly and the community of Petersburg should be realizing some type of revenue from that.”

There’s already a state excise tax on commercial passengers which is shared with some municipalities. Juneau and Ketchikan also collect similar cruise ship fees. Juneau’s $8-a-passenger fee has generated a lawsuit from the industry over how that municipality is spending the money. The industry group Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska argues that Juneau has used the money for projects that do not benefit cruise ships or the passengers that pay the fee. The group is challenging the constitutionality of the charge and the case could impact similar fees collected by the state or other municipalities.

That lawsuit has not deterred interest among elected officials here however. Meucci thought Petersburg had some projects that could help visiting ships.

“So the marine passenger fee if it came into a fund that was dedicated to helping improve the visitor industry, whether it’s putting a (mooring) dolphin at the end of the Petro Marine dock or increasing space for the cruise ships and maybe making the dock going down to South Harbor handicapped accessible,” Meucci said. “I mean I think that’s where the issue is up in the Juneau thing. Here I think we have the opportunity to craft it based on the Juneau ordinance and making it fit to us.”

Assembly members thought the harbor board would have some ideas on improvements to local docks used by cruise ships.

“I like the work session idea and to come hear all the ideas,” agreed harbor master Glorianne Wollen. “We have a variety of projects that we could submit as hopefully that would be beneficial to that industry.”

The assembly briefly considered forming a committee on the topic, but instead decided a work session between the assembly, harbor board and visitor industry would be sufficient. Borough staff will draft a proposed fee ordinance and the work session will be scheduled once that’s out for review.

In a related issue, the assembly voted to authorize the borough manager to begin discussions with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for obtaining DNR lands at Papke’s Landing. That’s an unincorporated community near a state dock 10 miles south of downtown Petersburg. Nancy Strand was the only vote against that. She wants a tax-supported service area formed to pay for any services or improvements there. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht will bring the issue back before the assembly once he receives a response from the state. The Alaska Department of Transportation owns the dock there.