Three cruise ships are docked along Juneau’s waterfront on the evening on May 10, as a Princess cruise ship on the right is departing the capital city. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Three cruise ships are docked along Juneau’s waterfront on the evening on May 10, as a Princess cruise ship on the right is departing the capital city. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Sitka residents join those in Juneau proposing hard caps on cruise ships as tourism grows

Two ballot measures could be presented to local voters in the two Southeast Alaska towns this fall

On Thursday, a group of Sitka residents submitted a proposed cruise-ship-limiting ballot measure to city officials for legal review.

On the same day in Juneau, a different group of Alaskans submitted the last batch of signatures needed to put a different limit on the local ballot this fall.

With as many as 1.6 million cruise ship tourists expected to visit Southeast Alaska this year, a growing number of the region’s residents are seeking to put hard limits on the industry.

That comes even as Juneau prepares for a softer, voluntary limit that would be the first of its kind in Alaska.

In Sitka, it’s the third time that local residents have tried to put a limit on the ballot. Two prior attempts were rejected by the city’s attorney.

After those failures, organizers created a nonprofit, raised money, hired an attorney of their own, and are trying again with a new draft.

Klaudia Leccese is president of Small Town SOUL, the new nonprofit. She believes Sitka residents are fed up with overcrowding.

“I’m generally not much of a rabble-rouser. I’m a retired social worker,” she said.

This year, as many as 9,300 cruise ship passengers will visit Sitka on its busiest days, more than the town’s population of about 8,400. On 75 days, the number of tourists will be greater than half the population.

Sitka has only 14 miles of paved roads, and Leccese said the traffic caused by tour boats and tour buses has gotten out of hand. Lincoln Street, at the heart of downtown, is sometimes closed because the crowds are too large.

Tour buses run from one end of the town’s road network to the other, shuttling between the cruise ship dock and Fortress of the Bear, where animals live in captivity.

She said she and her husband frequently take their small boat down the coast for a getaway, but even there, they’re awoken by the wakes of passing tour boats.

“You go, wow, I think these wildlife and fishing charters are just a few too many,” she said.

The newly drafted Sitka proposal would limit the number of cruise ship passengers to 300,000 per year, with no more than 4,500 per day. Sitka is expected to see about 600,000 cruise tourists this year.

Small ships — those with fewer than 250 passengers — wouldn’t be included in the limit. That would protect locally run companies, including Alaskan Dream Cruises, which is based in Sitka.

Large ships wouldn’t be allowed before May 1 or after Sept. 30, and the city Assembly could shrink that window.

“Some businesses are uncomfortable with cruise ships starting in April,” Leccese said, because high school and college students — who make up much of the seasonal workforce — aren’t yet available.

Sitka officials are reviewing the proposed measure for legality and will respond by July 2, the city clerk’s office said. If the measure passes legal muster, backers would need to gather 334 signatures to place it on the local October ballot. To call a special election, 556 signatures would be needed.

In Juneau, a proposed ballot measure would install “ship-free Saturdays,” forbidding large ships from landing on that day.

Karla Hart, one of the measure’s backers, said supporters had needed 290 more signatures on their petitions after a preliminary review, and on Thursday, she drove to city hall to drop off 427 more.

If the signatures are certified, the initiative will be on Juneau’s Oct. 1 municipal ballot.

“We should be good to go,” Hart said.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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