The Norwegian Bliss arrives in Juneau on April 17, 2023, the first cruise ship of the 2023 season. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

The Norwegian Bliss arrives in Juneau on April 17, 2023, the first cruise ship of the 2023 season. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Free public downtown Wi-Fi, park upgrades, more buses among proposals for marine passenger fees

Public comments being accepted until March 25 for more than $19 million in recommended projects.

Providing free public Wi-Fi downtown, increasing bus service between downtown and the Mendenhall Valley, and studying the impact of boat traffic on whales are among the recommendations by city leaders for spending about $19 million in marine passenger fees this year, according to an announcement Wednesday seeking public comment on the options.

Comments are being accepted by the City and Borough of Juneau until March 25 on the list of recommendations, which also includes $5 million for shore power facilities, improvements to Marine Park and the Seawalk, and $1 million in low-interest loans for tourism operators to invest in cleaner energy equipment.

Spending $1 million for public Wi-Fi downtown is being proposed following complaints last year that mobile phone service was spotty or not working during busy cruise ship periods, according to a memo issued Wednesday by CBJ Tourism Manager Alexandra Pierce.

“We received many complaints about the issues with internet service with cruise ships in town,” she wrote. “Wi-fi throughout downtown is an effort to address those issues and take some of the load off our local network. There is still work to do with the providers, but this is something that CBJ can do quickly to address the problem.”

The shore power project is the largest monetary item, which Pierce stated “may be used to purchase transformers for the 16B docks or may be used as a match for a grant.” Among the projects involving significant amounts of money are:

• $2 million for renovations to Marine Park, including construction work.

• Nearly $1.1 million for police support and about $664,000 for ambulance/EMS support.

• $1 million to expand Capital Transit service to the Mendenhall Valley, with the intent of preventing overcrowding by tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier that kept many residents from being able to board buses for purposes such as getting to/from work.

• About $841,000 for Seawalk, open space and restroom maintenance.

Smaller items include $160,000 for the study of boat impacts on whales by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $100,000 for bear-proof garbage cans downtown, about $343,000 for street cleaning/repair, and about $530,000 to Travel Juneau for visitor services and crossing guard programs.

The fees will also be used to pay about $2 million of debt service on the docks, according to the city’s recommendations.

The annual spending of the fees is intended for “projects or operational services that provide services to cruise ships and passengers, and mitigate community impacts created by the cruise ship industry,” according to a description by the City and Borough of Juneau. That designation applies to a $5 per-passenger fee approved by local voters in 1999, although passengers also pay a $3 port development fee and a $5 state commercial passenger vessel excise tax.

A record 1.6 million cruise ship passengers visited Juneau in 2023, and about the same number are expected during the 2024 and 2025 seasons, according to Pierce’s memo.

As such, the city is expecting a total of about $4.95 million in per-passenger fees, $2.97 million in port development fees and $8.25 million in state excise taxes for the coming year as well as the following year, according to Pierce.

Comments about the recommendations can be submitted by email to alexandra.pierce@juneau.gov or by regular mail to the City Manager’s Office, attn: Alexandra Pierce, 155 Heritage Way, Juneau, Alaska 99801. The recommendation and comments will be considered by Juneau Assembly members at future meetings as part of their annual budget process prior to the fiscal year starting July 1.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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