On Monday night, Feb. 27, I testified before the Juneau Assembly against a proposal to lease the North Douglas Pioneer Road for a new shoreside excursion for cruise ship tourists. A Juneau company, iRide Alaska, is applying for a lease to use the road for e-bike tours. While I have nothing against the Juneau residents applying for the lease, their plan is one more incursion into an area of Juneau that is used by locals for recreational purposes. The lease application would allow guided tours for a six-month period, from May 1 through Oct. 31 It would allow tours of between four and 15 people with two guides, six days a week, three times a day. This adds up to 995 days of the summer with up to 21 e-bikes transiting the road three times a day. The Assembly debated the issue and sent it to the Committee of the Whole for further action. It may come back to the Assembly for adoption, or it may be sent to another committee for further study.
On Jan. 30, 2023, the Assembly adopted Resolution No. 3011, the cruise ship tourism policy objectives from the Visitor Industry Task Force final report. It is the first time in my memory that the Juneau Assembly has adopted a policy calling for limits on the number of cruise ships in the downtown port (five ships per day). The resolution also calls for increasing the CBJ’s input in scheduling and scheduling transparency, and developing “a strategy for achieving community and regional goals for emissions, congestion management, and proactive industry management.”
If the Assembly is serious about the objectives it adopted, now is the time to develop a policy addressing shoreside excursions, water-based tours, and helicopter and fixed wing air tours. The Assembly has heard for years that various areas of town are inundated with vehicular traffic, pedestrian congestion, constant maddening noise from helicopters and fixed-wing traffic, harassment of marine mammals, the bunker fuel pollution the ships spew, and numerous other impacts to locals.
Adoption of Resolution 3011 creates the perfect opportunity for the Assembly to deal with the impact of tours that adversely impact Juneau residents. We live here because we like the small-town atmosphere, the natural beauty, and access to fishing, hunting, hiking, and other outdoor activities. An approach to limiting tours could use the time-tested precedent of limited entry set by our fishing industry. As the number of passengers grow, the number of small businesses seeking access to all areas of town is increasing. The U.S. Forest Service’s plans for the Mendenhall Glacier are an example of the type of future development for the benefit of passengers arriving on these non-U.S. tax paying vessels. Our tax dollars are going to pay for these “improvements” that will have a very detrimental effect on the quality of life of people who live near the glacier as well as those of us who would like to access the area.
I hope the Assembly takes this opportunity to do something for those of us they represent. Sure, Juneau needs economic development. And local businesses should have priority. But we must limit the growth of all aspects of cruise ship tourism, not just the number of large cruise vessels that dock downtown. We cannot keep giving away every area of town to cruise ship tourism.
If the Assembly wants to do something for local businesses, they should start with having the city attorney investigate whether the foreign-flagged cruise industry can be prohibited from demanding kickbacks from local merchants in order to do business with cruise passengers. I recall the blatant attempt last year by Princess Cruises to impose the “MedallionPay” system on Juneau merchants which would have imposed a 17.99% commission on local merchants. Other businesses pay kickbacks of anywhere from 25-50% to the cruise corporations for guided tours.
Let’s use the work of the Visitor Industry Task Force to benefit Juneau residents as well as Juneau businesses. It’s way past time.
• Kimberly Metcalfe is a life-long Juneau resident who has been actively opposing foreign-flagged corporate tourism since the early 1990s because of the impact on her Basin Road neighborhood.