I’ve read with interest recent My Turns in the Juneau Empire related to the cruise initiatives, most recently the My Turn by Max Mertz and Linda Thomas. They state that the initiatives do not give you, the public, a say in what the appropriate size for cruise tourism is, and that “…Whether today or tomorrow, our public policy around our economy, and certainly tourism, needs to be managed by our local government as directed by our elected leaders.”
They say the proposed initiatives “undermine all of the work of the task force and TBMP (tourism best management practices) to help ensure that the cruise impact on Juneau is as positive as possible for all of us.”
Unfortunately our City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has done next to nothing to address the explosion of cruise tourism in Juneau. I’ve been involved in the issue for close to 40 years, and have seen a succession of assembly attempts to deal with cruise ship tourism. The only honest attempt to deal with the ills of cruise ships came in 2001 when then-Gov.Tony Knowles created the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative to address egregious pollution including the dumping of raw sewage, gray water and disposal of toxic waste in state waters, and the belching of heavy diesel smoke into our air. Governor Knowles and then-Rep. Beth Kerttula were successful in passing state laws banning cruise ship pollution. It was a big win for those of us who recognized the damage the industry causes. In recent years, the industry has ignored or broken the laws and continues to pollute the same air and water they sell as pristine to the tourists who sail on their ships.
Juneau Assembly actions have been committees like Mayor Beth Weldon’s recent Visitor Industry Task Force. It was stacked with business people. Only one member, Paula Terrel, had a history of activism. Paula and I tried to address cruise over-crowding in May, 2019, by convening a meeting to discuss the impacts (see ). Instead of a meeting of neighborhood members to craft solutions to the problems caused by 22,000-visitor days and clogged streets, harassment of whales, helicopter noise and health and safety issues, the meeting was hijacked by cruise industry business leaders and their employees. Bullying tactics and committees stacked with industry supporters do not lead to practical solutions to problems.
The VITF was a slap in the face of those of us who wanted to see a reduction in the number of visitors and recognition by the assembly that there are many tax-paying members of this community who do not welcome the enormous numbers of visitors and the issues that come with them. Had Mayor Weldon made an honest attempt to resolve issues, we wouldn’t need to go to these direct democracy initiatives to make substantive changes to cruise ship problems.
It is time for a reckoning with the cruise ship industry. Mega-ships are the new normal, with ships already built that carry 10,000 people. The ships are the destination, and the industry is squeezing every dollar out of the passengers while they are onboard. Port communities are left with the crumbs. Shore excursion businesses must give kickbacks of 40-50% to the industry. Crewmembers are practically indentured servants — the industry’s labor record is appalling. And to top it off, the foreign-flagged cruise ships pay next to nothing in U.S. taxes. The government dollars that bailed out Juneau tourism businesses during the pandemic saw zero contributions from the cruise industry.
Sign the petitions if you want to see any change in the way we do business with the cruise industry. We’ve tried and tried and tried to come to reasonable solutions over many years, but for the members of Project Juneau’s Future there apparently will never be enough profit. They seem to want unlimited growth, to hell with the impact on Juneau of the millions of people, massive waste and pollution, and on our quality of life during the best time of the year. If we don’t limit cruising now, industry analysts expect to see 1.6 million visitors in Alaska when cruising begins again. And those numbers will reach 2 million in the next several years.
Reasonable change begins with you signing the initiatives. It’s not going to happen any other way.
• Kimberly Metcalfe, a lifelong Juneau resident, began fighting for limits on cruising in the 1980s when bus traffic severely affected her Basin Road neighborhood. She is a member of Juneau Cruise Control.