By Melinda Munson

Cruise ships will pay $5 more per passenger starting January 2024, in accordance with Resolution 23-23R, passed unanimously by the Skagway Borough Assembly June 1. The fee, currently $8.50 per passenger, will increase to $13.50, in an attempt to raise money for more permanent fixes to Railroad Dock landslide areas.

The amended tariff, in place across all docks, should raise an additional $5 million per year. The cost to mitigate the affected areas with more long-term solutions, such as taking down Ship Rock, is estimated at $30 million.

“I got asked today if I was willing to have this [tariff increase] sunset at the end of this effort,” Ryan said. “I’m not. … that whole hillside is going to need work … Once we’re done with this, we’re going to have to keep moving south and keep addressing this. This [tariff increase] is the model to do that.”

Before voting, Assemblymember Sam Bass asked Ryan, “Do you believe that this keeps us competitive in the Southeast?

“I do believe we are,” Ryan said. “Nobody made a comment to me today, nobody has ever made a comment to me that we are higher or too high on the fee.”

Juneau collects a $5 marine passenger fee, a $3 port development fee and a $5 state commercial passenger vessel excise tax for each passenger on a cruise ship that visits its port.

“…the municipality has spent nearly $4 million on rockslide mitigation this year,” Ryan said. “That’s half of our projected sales tax, or half of our sales tax revenue from 2019. So when you think about that, that’s a significant amount of money, that we’re just throwing at fences and temporary fixes. And we’ll have to do it again next year.”

On May 27, geo-experts Shannon & Wilson sent multiple rocks down the mountain, measuring between one and two feet in diameter to test mitigation. According to the manager’s report, “The majority of the rocks did not make it past the upper drape mesh. Of all the rocks released, only one release resulted in rocks encountering the lower attenuator fence, and none of them reached the dock.”

Mayor Andrew Cremata commented on the vast amount of work done since the mountain above Railroad Dock was deemed unstable following a series of landslides starting in June 2022.

“It’s a tremendous success story,” he said. “…the dramatic steps we took to spend money we really don’t have to ensure that we would get four ships into this port and then the work that staff did to follow that up. It’s just bordering on miracle territory.”

According to Port Director Cody Jennings, as of May 24, 83 ships and 139,761 passengers have visited Skagway, with liners at 92% occupancy. 

She described the first two months as “really positive so far, especially that this is typically our shoulder season.”