Opinion: Fees shouldn’t rise for harbor residents

It might not stop with harbor residents.

  • Monday, March 29, 2021 1:28pm
  • Opinion

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has an unorthodox approach to governing our public docks and harbors. Generally, maritime cities manage their public docks and harbors by electing harbor masters and partly paying for their public facilities with tax dollars. In Juneau, our public docks and harbors are required to be self-sustaining, “fee-for-service” facilities. Our Assembly appoints nine residents to a Docks & Harbors Board; charged with governing the docks and harbors, “in the public interest and in a sound business manner.” If the board fails in their charge, the only remedy for Juneauites is to elect assembly members who will provide more oversight or appoint different board members.

On March 19, CBJ Docks and Harbors emailed harbor residents that the harbor was “considering raising the resident surcharge,” that the board would be considering raising fees at its March 25 meeting, and that any member of the public was welcome to attend (via Zoom). On March 21, responding to a harbor resident’s question, the Harbor emailed that “it has been recommended that the fee be doubled to $138.”

At the Board meeting on March 25, the harbor provided a PowerPoint to make the case to the board that the resident surcharge should be doubled. The Harbor’s argument was framed as a “proposed fee for services increases” on the board’s agenda; however, the presentation to the board focused on what other Juneauites pay for sewer and water, what residents of harbors outside of Juneau pay for residential moorage and costs to the harbor for impounding residential boats (i.e., presumably, for nonpayment of moorage). Despite the harbor framing the proposed fee increase as a fee for increased residential services, the harbor did not present the surplus services it provides harbor residents, how or whether those services are increasing or the costs of providing surplus residential services.

Many harbor residents took the time to attend the board meeting, and to testify that the harbor does not provide surplus services to harbor residents sufficient to justify the current fee; let alone a doubling of the current fee. Flouting the public testimony, the board recommended proceeding with the public notice period; proposing to double the resident surcharge.

Unlike marinas in other maritime cities, there are no services offered to Juneau harbor residents that are not offered to all harbor patrons. All harbor patrons are equally free to use included services like water and trash; with usage varying greatly by individual patron, residential or not. The limited services provided in Juneau’s harbors are not comparable to those provided to Juneau’s houses, condos or apartments.

From the board meeting, it was apparent that the harbor is facing a significant budget deficit. The residents of Juneau’s harbors should not be scapegoated to pay for the harbor’s budget deficit. All harbor patrons need to pay for their share of the harbor and included services. The harbor should pursue individual offenders and their insurance to recover impoundment costs or other damages.

Harbor user groups should not be divided and set against each other; our boats take up the same space and use the same services, whether we use them commercially, recreationally or residentially. Residents should not be punished for our presence on the docks; overall, having boat owners present on the docks is good for Juneau.

If we allow the harbor to manufacture fees for nonexistent services, it might not stop with harbor residents. Recreational or commercial users could be the next group to be marginalized and forced to pay for nonexistent services.

Please, ask your assembly members to make the board govern the harbor, “in the public interest and in a sound business manner,” to oversee the harbor budget, and to assure reasonable costs for the actual facilities and services provided.

It’s easy to assert a residential surcharge for services used by residents above and beyond other harbor users. During the pandemic, I’ve been living and working from my boat. My water usage went up to about 300 gallons per week, and I estimate that I have dropped a bag of trash every few days. There are costs for services I use as a resident, that I’m happy to pay; they don’t total $69 per month.

• Eric Antrim has been a citizen of Juneau and a resident of Harris Harbor for four years.

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