By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – City of Seward Port and Commerce Advisory Board met in council chambers for a work session on April 2. After hearing reports from Alaska Railroad and Seward Harbormaster, PACAB heard input about increases in a passenger fees that city of Seward collects and deposits into the Harbor Enterprise Fund. Passenger vessels that use city of Seward docks, including charter fishing, tour, water taxis and guides currently pay $3.50 per passenger into the fund. The HEF, which obtains money from various sources, helps finance improvements such as new floats, fish cleaning-stations and harbor enlargements. Between 2001 and 2013, passenger numbers have fluctuated between 150,000 and 200,000.
Ron Wille, General Manager of Kenai Fjords Tours, publicly addressed PACAB. He said that as originally envisioned in 2001, the fee of $1.50 per passenger would help pay to replace ageing E-float and fish cleaning-stations. After that, it would sunset. He said that he felt “betrayal of trust” that the fee has not sunset and has instead gone up. He went on to “adamantly state” KFT’s opposition to increased passenger fees and any increase in port fees “whatsoever!”. Privately, he mentioned that KFT had passed on several hundred thousand dollars in passenger fees recently.
In a telephone interview, Tom Tougas, owner of Major Marine Tours of Seward, substantially agreed with Wille’s account of passenger-fee history and purpose. Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours maintain numerous vessels on E-float. Tougas said that, “Between KFT and MMT, we’ve passed on [to the city] over $3 million. We have honored our obligation,” referring to replacing E-float. Tougas also complained about the accounting for three city-backed bond issues tied to passenger fees and harbor improvements, calling it “all jumbled up”.
Harbormaster Funk reported to PACAB regarding its recent recommendation that city of Seward fund the design of an 8-ton crane on I-Dock for public use. He intimated that city administration would not support presenting the crane recommendation to City Council for consideration. He suggested that city administration rated replacing floats a higher priority than installing a crane. Board member Daryl Schaefermeyer, presiding at the meeting, joked that he did not wish to shoot the messenger, referring to Funk.
Then, seriously, he wondered aloud, “What is the role of this body, [PACAB] isn’t the administration usurping the Council?”
PACAB reports to City Council and advises City Council. Board member Carl Hughes said that he wanted more information from city administration about priorities in the small boat harbor. Board member Bob Linville noted that eight fishers stood up to speak in favor of the crane, more than he had seen about any issue before PACAB.
PACAB also heard reports from Alaska Railroad and harbor staff. First cruise ship of the year will arrive May 15 and first passenger train will arrive May 10. ARR continues to improve the cruise ship docks and reports that barges sometimes have repairs done at the freight docks. D-float replacement project has entered the “substantial completion phase”. City of Seward will test the water system and complete the final, electrical tie-in for D-float. City of Seward has impounded two sailing vessels and has given notice of public sale for non-payment of fees. On April 14, city of Seward will open sealed bids for S/V’s Flying Hambone and Gipsy.