Letter: I’m sorry for what’s happened to the Juneau harbor

I’m so sorry for what the industry I’m a part of has done to your once beautiful harbor. Please accept my heartfelt apologies! I saw the almost completed Stage I dock project for the first time recently. Stage II is going to add insult to injury next year with further expansion north. This is not inevitable progress — it’s massive corporate abuse of the heart and soul of your community, and I now wish I’d at least given public comment against the building of this monstrosity. It has forever defiled the historic beauty of the waterfront.

I started sailing into town in 1972, when you still had the ferry dock downtown. In those days, approaching Juneau harbor was like sailing into a Herb Bonnet painting, with the clean lines of the wharf pilings along the waterfront, framed by the towns buildings and the majesty of Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts in the background. For 23 years, working my way up from deckhand to captain on the Alaska Marine Highway System and 33 years as a Southeast Alaska ship pilot, I always looked forward to rounding Marmion Island, heading up Gastineau Channel, then, at the Rock Dump Buoy, entering the stage, the amphitheater harbor, feeling the wheelhouse tension of adrenaline, making the approach for the maneuver, docking the ship as skillfully, artfully and safely as possible.

Captain Ron Kutz let me do my first ferry docking. It was in Juneau at midnight, when I was a Third Mate on the Columbia.

Since 1983, I’ve been bringing cruise ships in and out of your lovely harbor, and the Alaskan maritime industry has been very good to me. But I didn’t sign on for such wholesale slaughter of waterfront integrity. I used to defend the grumblings from my local Juneau friends about how the cruise industry ruined Juneau’s charm with T-shirt, jewelry and trinket shops by saying it was a “clean industry, seasonal, only impacting the town for four months a year.” I was wrong, but still I’d walk down a ghostly South Franklin Street, by the closed-up shops in the off season, guilty steps laden with justification that these shops had merely replaced bars and that it was good for the economy of the town. I walked around Juneau the other night and saw more human derelicts strewn about the streets in drunken, drugged stupor than I’d ever seen before. I wondered just how much the booming cruise industry is actually providing to the local community, when the social fabric of the town is so in need.

And now they are suing you for wanting to beautify the waterfront with a park and sculpture in the far north corner of the harbor, the only place remaining that the monster industry hasn’t dominated.

I feel nostalgic for the lost charm and beauty of the harbor and sympathy for the locals who are going to have to look at this monolithic ode to greed and disregard for history, beauty and aesthetics all year long. This has impacted me more than I could have imagined. Perhaps because I’m retiring after this season, perhaps because I feel guilty about not speaking up sooner, before it was too late, even though it is doubtful I’d have impacted the outcome. I’m so sorry Juneau, I should have at least tried to look out for you.

Captain John Larsen,