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Cruise lines sue city over passenger fees

Associated Press Associated Press 13/04/2016

A life-sized whale statue has landed Juneau in hot water as a cruise ship association alleges it's a symbol of the Alaska city's misuse of millions in fees paid by visitors.

The Cruise Lines International Association and its Alaska affiliate filed a lawsuit against the city and borough of Juneau on Tuesday in federal court in Anchorage. They're challenging the legality of so-called head tax fees paid by cruise passengers who visit Alaska's picturesque capital.

Cruise ships collect the fees and pass them on the city. Juneau gets a $US5 entry fee per cruise ship passenger in addition to a per-passenger port development fee of $US3.

The association estimates it has given Juneau more than $US35 million ($A45.56 million) in entry fees in the past four years.

The group represents 12 cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America and Disney. They contend the city has used portions of those fees on projects that do not directly benefit cruise ship passengers and therefore violate federal restrictions on entry fee taxes.

Listed among the association's complaints is the $US10 million price tag on a planned nearly 15-metre whale sculpture set in an infinity pool, along with upgrades to the city's waterfront. The project is more than a kilometre from the cruise dock.

The lawsuit also lists $US22 million spent on government operating expenses, $US2 million for city bus services and $US447,000 for upgrades to a private dock that cruise ship vessels and passengers are not able to use.

Juneau is in the southeast panhandle of Alaska. It is not on the state's road system and is reachable only by boat or plane. The city's easy access to whale-watching, glacier views and hiking has made it a tourism hot spot in the state. Juneau's Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that 1 million cruise ship passengers will visit in 2016.

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