Lee Street Dock

The Richland City Council regularly approves multiple items on a consent calendar with one vote and no discussion.  Over a month after voting on Dec. 15 for 14 items that included a 15-year contract for American Cruise Line (ACL) to take over the Lee Street Dock, Richland City Council members say they need more information.

The councilmembers had second thoughts when the attorney for the competing cruise line, American Queen Steamboat Company, complained about the contract during citizen comments at the Jan. 19 city council meeting.

The contract requires that ACL pay the city $45,000 the first year to have priority docking. ACL must provide reservations to other businesses one year in advance.

According to American Queen’s Eric Denley, “It practically makes it impossible for a company like ours to come to Richland.” Denley explained that American Queen schedules two to three years in advance and is working on its 2023 schedule now.

Denley pointed out that his company’s cruises brought 12,102 visitors to Richland in 2019 and contributed $2.7 million to the local economy. 

Mayor Ryan Lukson said later in the meeting, “I wasn’t aware of some of the details that Mr. Denley brought forward.” 

Councilmembers Phil Lemley, Sandra Kent and Terry Christensen also said that they would like more information. The packet that accompanies the agenda for the Dec. 15 meeting included the contract on pages 92-106

Lukson, Kent and Councilmember Bob Thompson are attorneys.

Any member of the council can ask to have a consent calendar item pulled for discussion and a separate vote, but on Dec. 15 no one asked to pull the dock contract.

Lukson and Director of Parks and Facilities Joe Schiessl declined to answer The Observer’s questions about the status of the contract and how much the cruise ships paid for docking in 2019, the last normal year for cruises.

The cover sheet and resolution for the contract approval mention that “talks are underway” about a new dock that ACL will build at Columbia Point, but Denley pointed out during citizen comment that there is no requirement in the contract for such a dock.

Astoria, Oregon awarded a contract to ACL in 2019 to manage their dock after a bidding process that included American Queen. The Observer spoke with Astoria Public Works Director Jeff Herrington who said the contract had worked out well for the city and he had not heard any complaints about scheduling.

In a phone call with Denley, he told The Observer, “We found out earlier in the process and were able to get some certainty in that contract.”

According to Denley, the Richland contract has already been signed. He said that while he was disappointed that his company had not had the opportunity to participate in the process, he appreciated that city staff had reached out to him the day after his comments and offered to assist his company in finding an alternative.

The Richland City Council plans to discuss the matter at its Jan. 26 council workshop session that begins at 6:00 p.m.