Port Commission recommends 20% lightering rate increase

The Port Commission recommended a substantial boost in the borough’s cruise ship lightering rates at its Nov 2 meeting and the assembly will likely consider the rate increase on Dec. 12. If approved, the change will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

The recommendation is to raise the rate by half, charging lightering ships 60% of the fee for a dock tie-up instead of the current 40%.

The community’s port rates are among the lowest in the region, which has helped attract businesses and stimulate economic growth, according to a report by Harbormaster Steve Miller. However, maintenance and improvement costs for Wrangell’s port and harbors have “skyrocketed” in recent years, and the low rates that the borough has been charging aren’t sufficient to cover these costs.

“The current path of keeping port rates low is not sustainable,” wrote Miller. “The maintenance costs need to be adequately addressed in order to maintain the infrastructure’s functionality and safety.”

The current lightering rate — the fee the boroughs charges cruise ships that anchor up and bring their passengers to the summer float by small lighter crafts — is 40% of the charge for a ship that ties up at the City Dock. The proposed rate schedule would increase this to 60%.

About 20 of the almost 50 stops by cruise ships with 200 berths or more in Wrangell this summer lightered their passengers to shore.

The rate change would “still (leave) us dramatically lower than most others,” said Miller, and would offset the cost of the additional labor that multi-ship days require of his staff.

“If we have a ship that’s lightering and a ship on the dock … we have to take somebody out of the rotation at the Harbor Department to come out and cover one of those ships,” he said. “I figure they owe us a little bit by making us have to rearrange our schedules.”

Wrangell’s current lightering rates range from $423 for a 143-foot vessel to $12,959 for a 964-foot cruise ship. Ketchikan’s range from $897 to $13,732 and Sitka charges a flat rate of $2,752 for all ships.

Under the proposed schedule recommended by the Port Commission, Wrangell’s rates would rise to $523 for lightering a 143-foot vessel and $14,364 for a 964-foot vessel.

Even if the assembly adopts these changes, the Port Commission will likely continue revising its rate schedule. The 20% increase will “keep us in the game,” said commissioner John Martin, while the borough “(finds) a formula that works for us.”

“I think it’s a good way to start and it’s a good area to start,” added commissioner John Yeager. “If we get another post-pandemic year of tourism under our belt … it’ll be interesting to see what this second year looks like coming up in 2024. I think it’s a good time to get in on this.”


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