In this file photo, tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

In this file photo, tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Opinion: Overtourism in Juneau

Do the residents of Juneau get to have their say?

  • By Ray Preston
  • Sunday, October 27, 2019 7:00am
  • Opinion

In 2014 Juneau received 953,091 cruise ship visitors. This year the number is 1,283,853. That is a 35% increase in five years. If that trend continues, then in 2024 the number will be 1,733,202. That is an average of 11,182 passengers per day, using 155 for the number of cruise ship days (May through September plus two). Isn’t that special?

In my view, the worst effects of tourism on Juneau are intangible. Because of tourism (really the cruise ships), people who live in the valley avoid downtown at all costs during the season. Then, as soon as the last ship leaves, downtown becomes a ghost town. Yet that’s fine with the retailers who cater to tourists because most of them don’t live here anyway.

Forget the congestion. I think that our biggest loss from tourism has been the loss of a sense of community. I also believe that the only way to lessen the impact of tourism on Juneau is to have less of it.

So, given that Juneau might have a problem with tourism (these days the term is “overtourism”), what is the City and Borough’s response? Appoint a task force of course! Mayor Beth Weldon appointed a task force on Oct. 14.

But three of the eight community members derive their livelihood directly from tourism, and another member is the executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. (Their motto: “More is better. Always.”). So what are the chances that anything good will come out of this group?

One of the issues on the table is whether the City and Borough could legally cap the number of cruise ships coming to Juneau. As a retired attorney I can tell you the short answer is “No.” The Commerce Clause won’t permit it.

But we are not helpless. We can at least have a policy of discouraging any more cruise ships. And we can do that by simply asking the voters. I mean directly. Forget their surveys. They are always too squishy and molded to achieve a desired outcome. I say have an actual vote.

A special election with only one question on the ballot: “Do you want more tourism in Juneau or less?” More specifically, “Do you want more cruise ships in Juneau or fewer?” Or: “Do you wish it to be the policy of the City and Borough of Juneau to discourage any more ships than we had in 2019?” Make it a stark choice. An actual vote of the people is the only way such a policy can be established. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Assembly is a pawn of the cruise lines.

• Ray Preston is a retired resident of Juneau. 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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