Juneau’s City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Juneau’s City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Cruise ship decision should be tabled by the Assembly

Prudence and levelheadedness are called for.

  • Thursday, March 5, 2020 11:38am
  • Opinion

As a 74 year-old person at medical high risk and a citizen of Juneau for 47 years, I cannot believe that docking of the Westerdam in Juneau — after being denied permission in five other ports due to coronavirus risk — has already been approved or accepted, apparently by our city manager.

Nor can I believe that no public notice or opportunity for public comment was provided about this prior to its approval or acceptance.

[Cruise ship turned away from Asia ports comes to Juneau]

Juneau is a small community with only a relatively few places of high-intensity public interaction — Costco, Fred Meyer, Foodland, the downtown area, etc. Why is our city-borough government apparently not sufficiently concerned about the extremely high risk of community spread of coronavirus? Given the already all too evident pattern of community spread in Washington, California, and elsewhere, why are city-borough leaders not more concerned with limiting visitor risk rather than limiting it, let alone encouraging it?

Prudence and levelheadedness are called for, I know. And many factors, including, yes, economic ones, must be considered. But when the first CBJ action out of the gate is to present our community with a fait accompli involving a potentially life and death situation — and I am speaking here on behalf of all Juneau citizens, not simply myself — the very same public confidence that may be needed, and needed sorely, in the future to weather potential coronavirus impacts in Juneau is needlessly squandered.

The Westerdam decision should be tabled by the CBJ Assembly and discussed publicly and broadly with Juneauites before any decision to go ahead with it. It is a poorly conceived action, allowing not just a vessel visitation but also onshore crew leave at a time when precious little is understood about coronavirus vectors and transmission risks. A unilateral and preemptive decision by the city manager to go ahead with it is not simply premature; it is in fact fearsome for many, and for some of us, at least, an existential risk with a literally incalculable downside.

At a time like this, a more reasoned and considerate approach to our governance is called for.

• Jack Fargnoli, now retired, served as senior policy analyst in the Office of the Governor for five consecutive Alaska governors. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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