Alternative B offers best choice for harbor rate increases

The Homer Harbor is the engine for our community. The harbor is used by commercial fishing boats harvesting seafood throughout Alaska, charter fishing boats, water taxis and tour boats taking eager tourists, research vessels and workboats transporting freight throughout the state and recreational vessels heading out enjoy the bay among others.

Included in the benefits of all this activity are many costs, one of the main ones being maintaining the port and harbor’s infrastructure. In order to cover the costs the City of Homer, through the Port Director and Port and Harbor Advisory Commission initiated the latest round of fee increases in 2011 with the goal of setting fees sufficient to fund the harbor reserve fund. (PHC Regular Meeting April 27, 2011)

The North Pacific Fisheries Association (NPFA) represents commercial fishermen and fishing families who harvest halibut, salmon, black cod, pacific cod, crab, rockfish and herring. Headquartered in Homer, our members work throughout the waters of Alaska and the sustainable seafood we harvest is enjoyed by consumers and patrons both locally on the Kenai Peninsula and globally. Our boats range from 15-foot skiffs to 100+-foot crabber/tenders, we are part of the working waterfront identity to our harbor that attracts thousands of people both locally and from around the world to utilize, view and enjoy.

Over the past few years, the Homer City Council and Port and Harbor Advisory Commission has faced the challenging task to develop a fair and equitable plan for targeted moorage rate increases. Our organization understands all stakeholders of the harbor must compromise, which is why NPFA now supports what is known as Alternative B, the progressive continuous rate structure.

The progressive continuous rate structure is a balanced option that holistically and equitably recognizes all user-groups, whether it’s 80-foot crabbers or 20-foot recreational boats. Alternative B takes into account vessel size, administrative costs and harbor amenities utilized and available. For example, when no stalls are available to larger vessels, Alternative B balances the limited access to power and water to these vessels.

As part of the process the Homer City Council awarded a contract in an amount not to exceed $20,000 to Northern Economics, Inc. to evaluate alternative rate structures. (Resolution 15-073) Page 12 of this report identifies four harbors that charge a reduced rate for commercial vessels; “user-specific rate structures are used as an economic stimulant with the goal of generating additional revenues through other local tax structures.” Many members of our group support a similar structure for Homer.

In working through the Port and Harbor Commission and recognizing the Homer Harbor is diverse and serves many user groups, NPFA realizes at this time Alternative B as recommended by Northern Economics is a sufficient compromise. At its March 23, 2016, meeting the Homer Port and Harbor Advisory Commission voted unanimously to adopt Alternative B at five cents per foot increase and cap the increase at the 86-foot vessel size. At the Oct. 17 Homer City Council Worksession many stakeholders came together and the council members also expressed support for this option. We appreciate the extensive work of the Port and Harbor Commission and the Harbor staff who put an inordinate amount of time into this issue.

NPFA’s membership is eager to continue to build Homer’s harbor as a port that caters to a variety of users. Commercial, sport and recreational users must compromise to ensure necessary Port and City revenues increase alongside our businesses. Through this method, we also support Homer’s growing marine trade sectors and other vital businesses to our community.

NPFA strongly urges the Homer City Council approve Resolution 16-054 to amend the City of Homer fee schedule to implement a new graduated harbor moorage rate structure.

Malcolm Milne is the president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association.