Praise for unrestricted tourism is a regular feature of a one-sided dialogue in our community, brought forth by business people and cruise line lobbyists. We read and hear statements of how important industrial tourism is for our economy, and we are treated to estimates of sales tax revenue from cruise ships or average spending per passenger as if this is some golden egg without strings attached. What I never see in these lobbying efforts though, is any mention of the corresponding costs and adverse impacts brought on by unregulated cruise ship tourism. Nor do we see any estimates of the revenue City and Borough of Juneau would have if we taxed such things as excursions sold on the ships.
Speakers at the Chamber luncheon and an Assemblyman at the Task Force meetings warn us not to consider even modest controls on tourism or any taxation to help offset costs. The consequences of such an action are said to be the ships abandoning Juneau altogether and certain economic collapse. Business interests proclaim that their own standard of “sustainability” has been met and a measure of that success in their minds is not enough complaining by residents on the Tourism Hotline.
At a recent Task force meeting for example, Assembly member Wade Bryson made an impassioned plea that we must never do anything that might discourage the cruise industry and put us on the “slippery slope of them going away because they are the ones that pay the bills around here.” Bryson forgets that residents also pay the bills in many more substantive ways and so far we, those with the most at stake, have taken a backseat to the cruise lines who do anything they want here.
A more honest discussion must include a thorough assessment of what we have given up by having 1.4 million passengers invade our home for nearly six months a year. To achieve this, I encourage you to step up and name what the many costs of industrial tourism are. We need to hear from people who know there are very real costs to tourism and the effects from recent excesses are unreasonably burdensome. We should also explore ways to gather more revenue from this industry to allay these costs.
Consider flight seeing noise. Residents pay a substantial property tax, we shop in Juneau, we donate our time here, we engage in civic life and support the community all year. Yet for the effort of living here, we get not one summer day at home free from helicopter noise unless they are fogged out. On slow days 20 minutes per hour and on busy days over 40 minutes per hour are filled with helicopters hammering the air. By contrast, any person willing to pay for a ride on a cruise ship, and purchase the flight, gets whatever they want when they want, no matter how it affects residents. Worse, if that flight is sold on board the ships, as the majority of them are, they pay not one penny of sales tax to CBJ. Score: Visitors 1.4 million, residents Zero. There is an imbalance here in favor of tourists that may have worked with fewer passengers and weekly days off in a season that lasted mid-May to mid-September, but the same approach can never work now.
This is the time for you to come forward, support your neighbors and express your views to the Assembly and the Visitor Industry Task Force. Keeping silent, whether from apathy or frustration, is routinely interpreted as approval for everything the cruise lines wish to do. If you aren’t concerned yet, you should be. Public input meetings are scheduled for Jan. 11 and 16. Check out the CBJ web page for information on how to email your input and when/where the meetings will be held. The best ideas I have heard are ship free Saturdays, placing a limit of one million on total passengers and absolutely no new docks until we have these controls in place. The needs of residents must be acknowledged and acted upon if we are to go forward together in making a truly sustainable future for Juneau.
• Brian Flory is a long time resident and former captain at Alaska Marine Highway System. He has watched the cruise industry develop in Southeast for over 30 years.