CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Jamie Letterman as the co-owner of Juneau Whale Watching. She is the co-owner of Alaska Galore Tours, Harv and Marv’s Outback Alaska and Juneau Jeep Adventure. The Empire regrets the error, and it has been revised below.
Most speakers at a recent Visitor Industry Task Force meeting favored some sort of increased regulation for the tourism industry.
Twenty-five residents testified Saturday during the meeting of the mayor-created task force, made to provide advice to the Assembly regarding tourism industry-related topics. The meeting was held specifically to gather public input.
While the specifics of complaints about or in support for tourism-related industries varied, nearly everyone who spoke favored some sort of additional management of an industry that’s projected to bring 1.44 million visitors to Southeast Alaska next summer.
“We are not on a sustainable path, and Assembly action is needed to get us there,” said former City and Borough of Juneau Finance Director Bob Bartholomew, who spoke as a 33-year resident of Juneau. “We are not actively managing the industry or the associated risks.”
Complaints leveled against the industry included the congestion of city streets, over-crowded sidewalks downtown, out-of-towners buying up household staples, “flightseeing” helicopter noise and concerns about environmental impact.
However, the economic boon tourism represents for CBJ was also a recurring theme.
During his spoken testimony, Bartholomew said the benefits of cruise ship tourism do outweigh its costs currently, but he would like to see CBJ exert local control over the industry.
He said the Assembly needed to create a shared vision for the future of the industry and do what it could to make that a reality. Bartholomew compared it to the city’s protracted legal fight to spend marine passenger fee money on projects.
Bartholomew said on days when six cruise ships come to town, Juneau exceeds its tourism capacity.
In written testimony, Bartholomew proposed a memorandum of understanding between CBJ and the cruise ship industry on ship capacity as a tool for reining in the number of tourists that come to Juneau. He also proposed stipulations for construction of a fifth shore-side docks on property recently purchased for $20 million by Norwegian Cruise Line.
Capping number of tourists
Others also spoke in favor of somehow capping the number of visitors who come to the capital city.
“I thought a million would be a good number for a cap, and you know what happened,” Cam Byrnes said. “Top of the list for this task force has to be dealing with the numbers. Anything else is just wishful thinking.”
Multiple speakers said they’d like to see a one-day-per-week break from cruise ship tourism, or areas of the borough explicitly set aside from tourism activity.
“I would myself favor one day off a week without ships,” Brian Flory said. “If I could just have a day like we used to have.”
CBJ’s Tourism Best Management Practice’s guidelines do discourage industry-related operators from using Sandy Beach, Twin Lakes, Auke Bay Recreation Area and Cope Park as tour destinations, but that restriction is not set by ordinance or zoning.
There were a handful of people who gave testimony who explicitly said they did not favor a hard cap on the number of visitors Juneau receives.
However, that was more often than not tempered with an acknowledgment that regulation and managing the number of visitors already coming to Juneau is important.
Jamie Letterman, co-owner of Alaska Galore Tours, Harv and Marv’s Outback Alaska and Juneau Jeep Adventure, said operators need to make sure existing regulations are being followed and their employees follow best management practices guidelines. She also said locally owned tourism-connected companies are part of the Juneau economy and community.
“We are participating in the community as well,” Letterman said. “So don’t come after us with pitchforks because we do care.”
Visitor Industry Task Force Chair Carole Triem said she appreciated the testimony and thanked the people who took time out of their Saturday’s to talk.
Triem said repeated mentions of the environmental impact of tourism and helicopter noise were two things that stood out to her from the almost 75 minutes of public comments.
She said she’d also be interested in hearing more input from a larger segment of the public and would be interested in further outreach.
“I imagine that will be one of the recommendations to come out of this process,” Triem said.
Those recommendations are expected to be made to the Assembly in March, she said.
Want to weigh in?
There will be more opportunity for public comments at a 5:30 p.m. Thursday meeting to be held in the Assembly Chambers. Testimony can also be sent to the City Clerk by emailing City.Clerk@juneau.org or BoroughAssembly@juneau.org. Written testimony can also be sent to the City Clerk’s office at 155 S. Seward St.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.