Things started off tense.
A handful of local tour operators and industry leaders were among the 40 or so people who attended a Thursday night Juneau Neighborhoods Affected by Tourism meeting at the Downtown Public Library. Meeting organizers made it known they weren’t pleased with the turnout.
“I was not happy with having all of the industry people here,” said Kim Metcalfe, who helped organize the meeting of people from neighborhoods throughout Juneau.
During her comments near the start of the meeting, Metcalfe invited those connected to the industry to leave to free up room for residents, who wished to voice their grievances with tourism.
Tourism Best Management Practices Coordinator and Princess Cruises Director of Shore Operations Kirby Day and Bob Janes, Gastineau Guiding owner, said they were present specifically because they wanted to hear residents’ concerns and hopefully make improvements.
The mood lightened somewhat after Janes and Day said they want to work with residents to make the industry easier to live with.
These included the traffic created by crowds that make portions of the Thane and Basin Road neighborhoods difficult for vehicles to navigate, the environmental impact of cruise ships and whale watching vessels, the potential of tourists bringing diseases to the community, the use of taxpayer dollars for projects that benefit tourists and the behavior of visitors.
“We’ve gotten to the point where tourists are so overwhelming, people will not look at me and will push me into the street,” said resident Steve Krall. “Living on Basin Road, I sometimes have a nice garden, and people think they have the right to go and touch my plants because they want to take a picture of themselves holding the flower that they like. It’s just unpleasant. This can’t go on.”
Assembly member Carole Triem, who was one of several elected officials in attendance said some equity between the pros and cons of tourism seemed to be missing in the conversation.
However, the concern was dismissed.
It was also suggested by one attendee that perhaps the reality of living in Juneau means has changed and some degree of tourism impact is part of living in the city.
“I don’t accept that at all,” said the meeting’s co-organizer Paula Terrel.
Some residents and tour operators took a nuanced approach to the discussion and acknowledge some of the benefits of tourism and the practicality of cooperating to solve a problem.
“We’re lucky to have a problem that we live in a place that people want to come to visit,” said Andrea Watts, a Lena Point resident. “I don’t want to close channels and say it’s industry against neighbors.”
However, she also voiced deep displeasure over how marine life, particularly whales, may be impacted by heavy boat traffic.
Janes also spoke to the importance of cooperation, and said it was in the best interest of tour operators to keep Juneau a desirable place to visit.
“We are willing and ready to work with the neighbors,” Janes said. “I want to block cynicism and say let’s get it done. We can’t grow forever.”
However, what specific goal they’ll be working toward is undecided, and the crowd had disparate ideas.
Many, including Sue Schrader suggested a limit on the number of ships that can stop in Juneau in one day. Brien Daugherty suggested zoning certain parts of Juneau for tourism while exempting others.
Assembly member Mary Becker suggested the group consider identifying some of the issues it considers most important and decide on policies they would like to see the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly pursue.
While no formal vote or straw poll was taken, the general consensus of the meeting’s organizers was that it would be prudent to form steering committees and set more concrete goals to bring to the Assembly.
“It was a good discussion,” Metcalfe said.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.