Opinion: Zoning is the answer

Cruise-related problems are the question.

  • Kimberly Metcalfe
  • Tuesday, May 24, 2022 11:35am
  • Opinion

By Kimberly Metcalfe

As Juneau experiences the return of large cruise ships, the problems associated with those ships and their thousands of passengers and crew return. For my Basin Road neighborhood, it means the return of too many vehicles that speed along our extremely narrow road. Speeding in our area means going 20 mph, twice the posted 10 mph speed limit, and four times the 5 mph speed limit on the two bridges in the area.

We have seen the return of the Alaska Unplugged Adventures self-guided Jeep tours that tout gold panning, along with taxis, small passenger vans, other rental cars, and Alaska Travel Adventure’s gold panning tour. These vehicles, in addition to many local vehicles that access the area, make living in the area difficult if not dangerous. We love our neighborhood, but when confronted with hundreds of vehicles (yes, hundreds) that must travel back and forth on a dead-end road with several blind corners, it becomes not only annoying, but dangerous to our way of life.

I can’t count the number of times I have testified to the Juneau Assembly over the course of more than 30 years or participated in tourism working groups to address the large-scale tourism issues (passenger fees, helicopter noise, air and water pollution, and cruise ship limits to name a few). The only time any significant action was taken was during the tenure of Gov. Tony Knowles. Governor Knowles launched the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative in December 1999, and he called heads of state agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, high level executives of the cruise ship industry and representatives of environmental groups together to assess environmental violations that were being committed routinely by the cruise industry.

Following the results of monitoring during the summer of 2000, Governor Knowles issued a statement saying the results were, “disgusting and disgraceful.” Changes were made related to dumping and air pollution, but since that time the industry has grown enormously, numerous felony pollution incidents have occurred, the Ocean Ranger program was unfunded by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and we now see between four and eight huge ships per day in Juneau’s harbor.

I look back at past letters to the editor and My Turn columns I’ve written, and they haven’t changed a whole lot. But I’ll keep trying. This year I’m asking Travel Juneau to refrain from directing tourists with vehicles to the Basin Road/Last Chance Basin area. I ask tddhe Assembly to consider what I think is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time, from my friend and neighbor Brien Daugherty, to zone certain areas of Juneau as off-limits to industrial tourism. They don’t even need to pass anything new — just apply current zoning ordinances to the industry. Our neighborhood is in a residential district zoned D-18, “The D-18 residential district, is intended to accommodate primarily multifamily development at a density of 18 dwelling units per acre. This is a high density multifamily zoning district intended to accommodate midrise-type development.” Residential districts “…are established to provide a healthy, safe and pleasant environment for residential living protected from incompatible and disruptive activities.”

High traffic commercial activities in my neighborhood are clearly incompatible and disruptive. The industry keeps growing, and the Assembly refuses to regulate the number of ships that call on Juneau. If they do nothing else, the least they can do is follow current zoning laws.

I highly encourage residents whose home life is severely disrupted by mass commercial cruise ship tourism to contact their Assembly members with their concerns. The only thing that is going to work is for large numbers of people to let the Assembly know that enough is enough. My dream is that leaders will emerge from the Assembly who will help the cause of the people who live here. That would be so refreshing.

• Kimberly Metcalfe is a life-long Juneau resident. She has been advocating for limits on the large cruise ship industry since the early 1990s. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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