In what sounded at times more like a sales pitch than a Richland City Council workshop meeting, City Parks and Facilities Director Joe Schiessl tried to sell the council on a contract the council approved on Dec. 15.
Councilmembers clearly had second thoughts.
Councilmember Michael Alvarez interrupted Schiessl’s presentation at the Jan. 26 meeting to say, “Why didn’t we get this workshop prior to Dec. 15, 2020 ?”
Schiessl responded, “That’s a great question. There are a lot of ways for staff and council to interact.”
Mayor Ryan Lukson said, “It’s clear that there was a policy decision made here and we didn’t have enough information.” He added, “No one on council knew we were making a tradeoff decision.”
The council’s Dec. 15 agenda packet included the contract and other information on pages 91-106. No councilmember asked a question about it before they voted to approve it.
The contract allows American Cruise Line (ACL) to control the use of the Lee Street dock for the next 15 years for $45,000 the first year.
Schiessl said, “The city is out of the dock scheduling business.”
The contract leaves three other cruise companies, American Queens Steamboat Company (AQSC), Lindblad Expeditions, and Uncruise Adventures high and dry.
ACL said in council documents that it predicts it will double the number of passengers it currently brings to Richland by adding two new vessels in 2022.
Schiessl repeated the claim Tuesday as a way of justifying the contract.
According to Schiessl, ACL currently brings about 12,000 passengers to Richland. AQSC brings 7,500, and the other two lines combined bring about 1,000.
ACL’s contract requires that it allows other cruise lines to make reservations one year in advance for dates that ACL doesn’t use.
AQSC representative Eric Denley told the council Jan. 15 that his line prepares its schedule two or three years in advance. He said AQSC would not be able to dock here under the new contract.
Denley expressed disappointment that his company was not included earlier in the discussions.
AQSC and ACL’s websites show the companies are accepting reservations for 2022 cruises that come to the Richland dock.
Lee Street dock took three years to plan and build along the shoreline the city already owned. The dock was completed in 2004 and cost $591,000, not counting staff salaries.
The city hasn’t charged user fees because the city looked at the dock as an economic development tool, Schiessl said.
He estimated that with the possible increase in traffic from ACL in 2022, the cruise ships could bring $5.5 million in tourist dollars to the Tri-Cities area.
“ACL is digging deep and making very significant capital investment in ships,” Schiessl said. “They desire to have exclusive control of the facilities at every port of call.”
He promoted the idea of a new dock to be built by ACL at Columbia Point and showed a conceptual drawing of the dock site, including commercial development around it and a city park, but he also admitted, “We certainly don’t have an agreement for a new dock or a timeframe.”
Councilmember Terry Christensen admitted that he probably should have asked more questions on Dec. 15. He said he did not want to lose customers speculating on what might happen in the future. We’re taking care of the big guy instead of taking care of them all. He asked, “Can we revise our agreement?”
Lukson, an attorney, said, “There’s no wiggle room in the contract.”
Councilmember Bob Thompson, also an attorney, added that contracts are not written to accommodate the whims of city councilmembers.
“Everybody is going to work together and hopefully we will reach a kumbaya moment,” Lukson said.