There are a lot of things we would rather do than get engaged in another community discussion about cruise ship tourism, but the cruise ship traffic encroaching on our neighborhoods of Basin Road and Thane is detrimental to our quality of life. We have heard from others whose neighborhoods are being severely impacted as well.
We were both involved in hundreds of hours of Assembly meetings, local committee meetings and community workshops, and state-sponsored committee hearings in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The input of hundreds of Juneau residents resulted in the imposition of passenger fees, changes in shore excursion tour areas and changes to the way cruise ships do business in Juneau.
In 1999, following egregious environmental pollution in Southeast Alaska waters by cruise ships, Gov. Tony Knowles demanded industry leaders come to the table with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Southeast Conference, state employees, environmental groups and concerned local residents to address problems caused by the cruise ship industry. We were members of the working groups involved in Knowles’ initiative.
The working groups addressed the cruise industry’s dumping of gray water and black water (toxic chemicals and raw sewage), air quality emissions, environmental leadership and oil spill response. Positive actions were taken on all of these issues. We were proud of our accomplishments.
Unfortunately, those accomplishments didn’t last. We’ve seen the return of cruise ships belching black diesel smoke as they arrive in Juneau and the dumping of wastewater. In 2018, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued nine air quality violations and 11 wastewater violations.
The number of cruise passengers and the size of cruise ships in the late 1990s and early 2000s seems minuscule when compared to today. Of course the cruise industry brings needed jobs and revenue to Juneau, but there is a point when we must address the city’s carrying capacity.
Last week we saw a 22,000-passenger/crew day, and days with more than 20,000 people in town will be a regular occurrence this summer. Next summer another megaship will be added to that schedule. Questions must be asked: can we manage numbers such as these? And what can be done to lessen the impact on residential areas? It is long past time for our city leaders to address the issue, but it’s better to address it now than let things completely spin out of control.
Basin Road and Thane are historic neighborhoods with narrow roads. Thane residents are caught in a huge traffic bottleneck when trying to drive downtown on the only available route. It is not uncommon for residents to be stuck behind multiple buses, making the drive twice as long.
Tourists and store personnel regularly step off sidewalks and into oncoming traffic, causing drivers to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting them. Basin Road residents are inundated with traffic driving by their homes from morning until night, and walking the road is dangerous because of hundreds of tourism-related vehicles, and the normal local traffic driving the narrow dirt road that is failing due to erosion.
We want to live quiet lives in the neighborhoods we chose to live in because of the quality of life they offer. We recognize the importance of the industry to Juneau’s revenue stream, but we have to be able to live in the town we call home.
To begin a discussion of how to cope with the increased number of cruise ship tourists and crew, and the effect on our town, we are hosting a meeting this Thursday, 5-7 p.m., at the downtown Juneau Public Library’s large conference room. Anyone who lives in a Juneau neighborhood who’s affected by large-scale tourism is welcome to attend.
Is it time to consider capping the number of ships that dock in Juneau? Should we move half of the ship traffic to Auke Bay? Are there ways of limiting the impact of cruise ship tourism on our neighborhoods? Please join us to brainstorm solutions to these issues that affect our quality of life in Juneau.
• Kim Metcalfe was born and raised in Juneau and lives in the home her grandparents purchased 90 years ago. Paula Terrel is longtime Alaskan, retired commercial fisherman, former 20-year legislative staffer and bed and breakfast owner who has lived with her family on Thane Road for 35 years.