Tourists walk the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)

Tourists walk the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Let’s get moderate heads together for a solution on cruise ship tourism

Come on Juneau, we’ve got to do better.

Once again neighbors are pitted against each other over cruise ships. Cruise tourism versus the environment and the future of our city. Thankfully we’ve gone from a very extreme position to a bit more moderate, but one that still has damning consequences. I thought about signing until I ran the numbers to see if we can accommodate those ships on other days — and sadly we can’t. And the group doesn’t seem interested in a “Ship-Free Saturday” one day a month — which I’d totally vote for, but I won’t be signing this petition.

As a local travel agent and avid cruiser I can’t tell you how much it lifts me up to see cruise tourists get so excited about things we just shrug at –¨— be it glacial ice floating at Mendenhall Lake, seeing eagles and bears by our dump, or orcas in Gastineau Channel. Seeing their excitement is just one reason we all chose to live here: Juneau is an awesome place. I’ve done four Alaskan cruises and each one has blown my mind away — we really live in an exciting state.

Many of our travelers spend their entire lives dreaming of coming up here and we have the cruise lines to thank for that. Their marketing of Juneau and Southeast is unparalleled, and could even possibly match Disney. Along with the cruise tourism, comes the downsides of cruising — massive increases of population to support the cruise tourism, environmental impacts from cruising and the sheer volume of people.

Juneau led the world when we developed TBMP — Tourism Best Management Practices — and it has been a role model shared across the world. Maybe it’s time we actually put our heads together and come up with a solution to manage cruise traffic that could also be a model. The U.S. government already has this in place for airlines through the FAA and airport slots at the most congested airports. Even the international airline “government” body International Civil Aviation Organization has this for noise regulations and pollution (they rate airplanes — Stage I, II, III, etc — with most Stage I and II banned from most skies). Maybe Juneau should consider adopting something similar, but adding in environmental impact as part of this? Maybe an environmental ranking system for each ship and line — whereby that line then “applies” for a slot in Juneau?

The arguments against the new Norwegian Cruise Line/Huna Totem dock are also laughable — we’ve got a five-ship limit, but the anti-cruise folks in town are against this dock. I guess they want that fifth ship to continue burning Bunker C oil with multiple generators running, polluting our air and tendering instead of pulling up to a berth – where we’ll get almost everyone off the ship (did you know if a ship has to “tender,” about one-third of the guests don’t bother getting off?). Let alone relocate nearly 20% of Juneau’s cruise traffic from the AJ dock to the new berth, closer to town – which will mean less bus traffic and pollution as well. That fifth ship, when tied down at a berth, will have only one generator running (unless we have shore power) versus three if it’s at anchor or tendering. That right there is a win for the environment.

But we’ve got to come up with a way to manage our cruise traffic that appeases not only the cruise lines, but also us as citizens in Juneau. I was surprised to find out there’s no two-way communication between the communities and the cruise lines when it comes to berth allotments; maybe it’s time to change that. An annual meeting with the cruise line market planners and communities, in one building, to discuss the long-term plans and get feedback.

Come on Juneau, let’s get some moderate heads together and come up with a solution that works. We can still maintain an awesome place for tourists to visit, and maintain an awesome place for us to live; we just need to work together to accomplish that goal — we started it with TBMP, maybe it’s time to do it again.

• Nate Vallier is a Juneau resident who has spent the better part of his career in airline management, tourism advocacy and destination growth.

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