Yakutat bills cruise lines $382,833 for head tax in 2001

JUNEAU -- The City and Borough of Yakutat has sent a bill to seven cruise lines for a $1.50-per-passenger tax approved by the community’s Assembly last January.

The town wants the cruise companies to pay $382,833 for plying the waters of nearby Disenchantment Bay in 2001.

"With a little luck these invoices will not generate any lawyering," wrote Yakutat billing manager Cathy Wassillie last month to attorneys for Holland America and Carnival Cruise Lines.

The industry is fighting the tax.

"It creates a terrible precedent," said John Hansen of the North West CruiseShip Association, which represents nine cruise lines operating in Alaska.

The tax is unprecedented because the ships do not dock in Yakutat. However, the vessels enter scenic Disenchantment Bay in borough waters to show passengers the Hubbard Glacier, an alternative to Glacier Bay on some cruise trips.

Yakutat residents who hunt seals worry the ships are hurting seal populations in the bay, a prime pupping ground for the animals. Civic leaders also say ill passengers traveling through borough waters have taken a toll on city medical services.

Yakutat, about 225 miles northwest of Juneau, will put up a fight if the industry ignores the invoices, said City Manager Don Braun.

"The Assembly indicated that it was willing to go to court over the matter," Braun said.

The industry would rather negotiate an alternative to the tax, said Hansen, who worries the levy will leave the industry vulnerable to similar taxes by cities along cruise routes to destinations worldwide.

"We’d like to ... explore some other alternatives with the city -- find some ways in which we can cover the cost that the city incurs on behalf of the industry," he said.

Hansen said he called Braun to request a meeting after the cruise lines received the invoices, which were mailed Dec. 18. Yakutat agreed to a meeting in late January or early February, said Braun, who noted the city is open to negotiation because a court battle would be costly.

Yakutat sent invoices for an estimated $50,085 to Carnival Cruise Lines; $41,871 to Holland America; $187,862 to Royal Caribbean; $111,675 to Celebrity Cruises; $38,160 to Princess Cruises; $10,500 to Radisson Seven Seas Cruises and $8,772 to World Explorer Cruises.

The town estimated the amounts due by assuming the vessels sailed at capacity. However, Braun revised the total of $448,925 to $382,833 on Jan. 3 after getting more definite information on passenger numbers. The town also plans to send an invoice to the Clipper Odyssey, he said.

01/13/2002 - 8:00pm