SITKA (AP) -- The Yakutat Borough has voted to tax cruise ships visiting waters within borough boundaries even though visiting passengers usually do not leave the boats.
Cruise ships generally sail up Yakutat Bay, take a look around, then sail out again, but Larry Powell of Yakutat said borough residents wanted some action taken because of the volume of ships sailing into the borough.
''That, coupled with the news of dumping and spills and high level of pollution and contaminants that ships can potentially scatter about in the waters as they go from place to place,'' Powell told Sitka's KCAW-radio.
The ordinance passed Friday assesses ships $1.50 per passenger. The tax is to begin this summer.
Powell said at least 150 cruise ships sailed into Yakutat Bay last year. At that level, acting city manager Paul Wescott said, the tax will raise about $300,000 annually.
Wescott said most of the money will be directed to monitoring programs.
''We intend to monitor the discharges and stuff into the water and air quality and just the actual presence of these ships on the marine life around the bay,'' he said.
Disenchantment Bay at the head of Yakutat Bay is home of the Hubbard Glacier and, according to Powell, a popular pupping site for hair seals. Powell said the regulations that limit how close ships can approach seals with pups in Glacier Bay do not apply around Yakutat.
''Some people among the tribe would be perfectly willing to limit how far they can go up into the bay so don't get up into some of the areas they consider especially critical for seal habitat,'' Wescott said.
Wescott said the conflict that accompanies most cruise ship head tax proposals didn't surface in Yakutat.
''Cruise ships don't really bring a lot of money into town in terms of tourist dollars because they don't really stop in town,'' Wescott said. ''In fact, all you see of cruise ships is effects on our EMS (emergency medical services) and on the habitat of the bays around here, so actually they're an expense to us at this point.''
Wescott said he doesn't know how the cruise industry will react. Al Parrish of Holland America declined comment Monday and said he had not seen the ordinance.
Powell said a key point in the tax is that the money is not intended to enrich the city of Yakutat or provide new benefits to its citizenry. The revenue will pay expenses that would not exist were it not for the presence of the cruise ships in Yakutat Bay, Powell said.
''Having to protect ourselves and monitor what's happening is a direct cost the borough and the community should not have to bear,'' he said.
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