Passengers walk off Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam on Monday, May 1, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Assembly sets aside $250,000 more for cruise industry lawsuit

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members voted unanimously at a meeting Monday night to set aside $250,000 from the city’s sales tax revenue for legal costs in its ongoing litigation with the cruise line industry.

In April 2016, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Alaska filed a lawsuit against the CBJ, alleging that the city misused money from the so-called “head tax” that gives Juneau $8 for every cruise passenger.

Since then, the city has appropriated $597,000 to the cost of legal defense, according to CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew. Now that number will rise above $800,000.

Monday’s meeting was open for public comment, but nobody from the public testified. No Assembly members objected to appropriating the funds.

During a December CBJ Finance Committee meeting, City Attorney Amy Mead said there were currently two pending motions in the case, but no negotiations at this point. CLIA Alaska’s argument in the case is that the city used money from the head tax — funds that are required to be spent to benefit a cruise vessel — for projects that do not directly benefit the vessel.

In a recent My Turn for the Empire, entitled, “What’s really at stake in cruise line lawsuit,” City Manager Rorie Watt said the CBJ tried to negotiate a settlement with CLIA in the spring and summer of 2017.

“Between March and June 2017, CLIA and CBJ actively engaged in settlement efforts that were unsuccessful,” Watt wrote. “In May, we invited CLIA to mediation. CLIA declined our invitation.”

Central to CLIA’s argument, as reported at the time the lawsuit was filed, was the Whale Project. The project, which built a life-sized sculpture of a whale near the Douglas Bridge, was funded through private donations. What CLIA alleged in its lawsuit in April 2016 was that the head tax money the city used to fund a seawalk and park surrounding the whale was illegal.

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