Protecting Juneau’s future depends on protecting Juneau’s environment. We are a peaceful little town in a pristine wilderness. Juneau has whales, bears, glaciers, old growth forests and fish. We have good water and air. We have many of the things money can’t buy. People come here to experience things we take for granted. So why are we selling Juneau short? Why have we allowed the cruise industry to dominate our town for five months of the year? Money, of course. I wonder why money seems to be of greater value than those things money can’t buy?
Norwegian Cruise Line recently paid $20 million, five times the Juneau-assessed value of land, for its proposed dock. They clearly realize the value of Juneau, even though Executive VP Howard Sherman recently admitted that passenger load is close to a cap.
When we allow ships that tower over our town and thousands of visitors every single day for months, I begin to think we’ve reached that cap, or passed it. The ballot initiative sponsors want to put reasonable limits on cruise traffic, not stop it completely. Unlimited growth of cruise ship traffic will degrade our environment, and we will lose the things that draw people to Alaska. We place limits on hunting and fishing because we value wildlife and fish. We place limits on whale watching because we value whales. But it seems we don’t value Juneau enough to place limits on cruise traffic.
How did we let this happen? Well, for one thing, we never envisioned ships this big. When the city began to realize we had a problem around 2018, they appointed a task force which made its recommendations just before the pandemic stalled everything. The ballot initiative sponsors considered a signature drive the only way to encourage serious discussion. Even if the propositions don’t get on the ballot, they have succeeded in promoting discussion. Everyone is talking about cruise ships and tourism; it would be a great time for a public forum.
We could offset the arrival of fewer ships by charging more for the 3 million tons of sewage that we handle, or allowing them fewer tax exemptions. Juneau is considered a “premier destination” so let’s act like one. Encourage the smaller ships which bring people who want to experience the natural world. The larger ships are marketed as destinations in themselves, and that’s not helping us protect our environment at all.
Protecting Juneau’s future depends on protecting Juneau’s environment. Let’s use this break to figure out some reasonable limits on cruise traffic that will work for Juneau.
• Eileen Wagner resides in Juneau.