Pat White (left) and Sue Schrader (right), collect signatures to move a trio of initiatives aimed at curbing cruise ship visits to Juneau onto October's municipal ballot. The pair are members of a group called Juneau Cruise Control. With a less than a week until the June 4 deadline to submit signatures for each question, organizers are not releasing the number of singatories to date. (Courtesy photo/Sue Schrader)

Cruising to the finish line: Initiative proponents, opponents continue work

Juneau Cruise Control holds numbers of signatures close to the vest ahead of next Friday’s deadline.

Proponents and opponents of a trio of ballot initiatives aimed at curbing cruise ship tourism to the capital city by changing the city’s charter are making their cases ahead of the June 4 deadline for petitioners to submit the roughly 3,000 signatures each question needs to appear on October’s municipal ballot.

Muscular efforts on both sides of the issue have been underway since mid-April when cruise reform activities filed the paperwork to start the process of adding the questions to the ballot.

Shortly after the filing, organizers created the Protect Juneau’s Future committee and launched a Stop the Sign campaign to thwart the initiatives from moving forward and appearing on the ballot.

With less than a week to go for signature collection, the number of signatories remains a mystery.

Ballot initiatives seek to curb cruise ships

Karla Hart, a Juneau resident and co-founder of the Global Cruise Activist Network, said that her group would not release news about the number of signatures collected for each question until Friday’s submission deadline.

“Volunteers continue to collect signatures at a steady pace,” she said in an email to the Empire.

Laura Martinson, the owner of Caribou Crossing and co-chair of the Protect Juneau’s Future committee, said her group has not heard much about the success of the signature collection efforts and doesn’t expect to know the outcome until the city clerk completes the tally.

“What we have experienced beyond measure is a huge amount of support for Protect Juneau’s Future from every corner of the community. We really could never have predicted this sort of groundswell of a movement asking our neighbors, in unison, not to sign the petitions,” Martinson said in an email.

Cruise control on the ballot?

Plans for the home stretch

Coming into the final week of signature collection, Hart said that her group will continue to collect signatures using a personal touch. She said that people interested in signing the petition can email their name, phone number, and general area of town to juneaucan@gmail.com, and a volunteer will arrange to meet them.

“We’ve been having good success with this approach, as people invite others to join them in signing at the same time,” Hart said.

Hart noted the campaign to discourage people from signing and said that it’s backfiring.

“The efforts to suppress people from signing have been intense, and we don’t want to further feed them. Interestingly, the suppression ads are getting the attention of people who seek us out to sign,” she said in an email.

Martinson said her group will continue efforts to discourage people from signing the petitions over the next week.

“Our plan is just to continue doing exactly what we have been consistently doing since the onset of the petition process, and that is to educate the community on the devastating consequences, whether they be intended or not, of these charter amendments,” Martinson said. “We are so proud of the unified support we have received across the board, and we will continue to raise awareness about these issues — because ultimately, our future is on the line here. This is so important.”

Differing perspectives

Proponents claim the initiatives, which include establishing hours during which cruise ships with more than 250 passengers can visit, banning ships with more than 250 passengers on Saturday and blocking ships larger than 100,000 gross tonnage after Jan. 1, 2026, would allow Juneau voters to try to strike a balance between the benefits the cruise industry brings and its dominating presence over the community.

However, opponents say that the process of changing the city’s charter shuts down the conversation around tourism by circumventing established procedures for discussing the issues, like those carried out by the Visitor Industry Task Force, which Mayor Beth Weldon established.

“Many of us have been in discussions for 30 years or more, and we’ve had no success in those forums. The Visitor Industry Task Force was stacked against those opposed to the ships. The task force didn’t outline any steps,” Hart previously told the Empire.

She continued: “It’s disingenuous for them to say they want to continue the conversation unless they are offering a solution that’s durable and binding. They know the problems. They are reacting so strongly because they know people have not been heard.”

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Economic impacts

Proponents of the initiative have not issued formal fiscal projections about the economic impact of the measures. However, they say that diversifying Alaska’s economy away from cruise ship passengers will make Alaska stronger. Hart contends that cruise ships take away from alternative forms of travel, including independent travelers.

Opponents say that each initiative brings unintended consequences, has the potential to erode the city’s sales tax revenue substantially and would devastate local businesses.

Martinson said that people who work on the docks quickly connect how the curfew question would affect how many ships could visit due to the logistics of getting vessels boarded and out of town by 7 p.m. daily. Martinson said that if that initiative passes and makes it to the city charter, 58% of the 2022 schedule would be affected.

She also said that the proposal to ban ships on Saturday would result in a loss of $20 million in direct spending.

“That one is tricky because it seems so unassuming based on some of the feedback we’ve heard. However, for those of us already operating in a short season, the prospect of losing an entire day from each week, and $20 million in direct spending is quite the contrary,” Martinson said.

She also said that Saturdays are the days that tour operators have space to offer local discounts. But, without a ship in port, the majority of these operators would not operate on Saturdays.

Martinson said the proposal to ban ships over 100,000 gross tonnage is misleading.

“It’s being billed as preventing ‘mega-ships,’ but really it’s banning nearly a third of the ships that already call here,” she said, adding that the entire fleet of Princess cruise ships would be unable to call in Juneau.

The initiatives at-a-glance

There are three potential ballot questions, and volunteers must collect about 3,000 signatures for each one for it to proceed to the ballot. Here are the proposals:

— Cruise ships with a capacity of more than 250 passengers may not be at dock or anchor between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., beginning in 2022.

— Cruise ships with a capacity of more than 250 passengers may not be at dock or anchor on Saturdays, beginning in 2022.

— No cruise ship larger than 100,000 gross tons may be at dock or anchor after January 1, 2026.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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