- Associated Press - Saturday, December 8, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The use of fees collected from cruise ship passengers by the City and Borough of Juneau must be connected to the ship, a federal judge has ruled.

The cruise industry had challenged the legality of $8 per passenger fees and alleged the city spends the money too freely, Coast Alaska reported.

The money has gone toward building bigger docks for cruise ships but also for such things as extra crossing guards, public bathrooms and a sea walk that runs past the downtown docks. The city even used some of the money in fighting the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland ruled Thursday that while Juneau can keep collecting the fees, their use must constitute a service to the ship.

For example, he said a gangplank would be a service to the vessel, but sidewalk repairs and access to the public library’s internet that passengers share with the general public likely would not be.

City Manager Rorie Watt said officials were reviewing the ruling. The city recently began soliciting public proposals for how to spend the next round of cruise passenger fees.

“We’re going to be closely reading Judge Holland’s order in figuring out what our next steps are,” Watt said.

Maritime lawyer Joe Geldhof, who wrote the initiative passed by Juneau voters creating the fee, saw the ruling as “rebuking the sort of undisciplined spending on the part of the city and borough and the recommendations by the city and borough staff.”

Other coastal communities have their own passenger fees, and there is a state head tax, too.

Geldhof said the Alaska attorney general needs to provide guidance on how such revenue should be spent in the future.

John Binkley, president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, said in a statement that the organization was pleased with the ruling.

“Our primary goal was to seek guidance from the court so both the industry and communities understand the rules going forward,” he said.

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