(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion:We can do better for our community and visitors

We can do better.

  • Tuesday, May 18, 2021 1:41pm
  • Opinion

By Linda M. Blefgen

I agree in part with the Rich Moniak and Bruce Botelho My Turns. Missing from both perspectives however is that the conversation to moderate the number of visitors and the impact of industrial tourism on our public services, streets, waterways and recreation areas has been ongoing for 30 years.

I am grateful for the courageous folks in our community who have spoken out time and again in the best interest of all Juneau citizens, including many who are unable to speak due to fear of verbal attacks and ramifications.

The successes (per Botelho) that have occurred were not the result of the city and the business community working to mitigate the tourism impacts brought to their attention. They resulted from citizens who were willing to push back using their personal time, energy and resources to protect our environment and quality of life.

Helicopter and float plane noise abatement

By early 2000, the noise from air tours was deafening. I could be in my mother’s yard a few feet from her and our voices were drowned by helicopter traffic; we had to stop conversing. A woman coming off Spaulding Trail was near tears. I asked her the trail conditions. After a difficult week, she sought out quiet, solitary time to recharge. Instead, she found the constant interruption of helicopters churning overhead.

CBJ, Chamber of Commerce and the Cruise Line Industry Association did not actively respond to community outcry. A group of community activists organized and circulated an initiative petition before a concerted effort worked to mitigate the ongoing disruption.

Cruise Ship Pollution

Cruise ship toxic dumping and air pollution was not unknown; however, city and business leaders did not step up to protect our own front yard. In a conversation with a maritime professional, I was told that within that profession it is common knowledge that cruise ships are known to be the most egregious violators of marine environmental law.

Once again, it was an initiative-driven by watchful citizens that forced action at the state level resulting in regulation and oversight, caring for our marine habitat and air quality.

Waterfront development

The development did not occur until after the cruise ship passenger head tax was in place. Proactive citizens asked the CLIA to contribute to the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure to support their ever-increasing ships and visitors. Air and sea ports around the world have a head tax. A head tax initiative in 1996 was on the ballot and again in 1999. The petitioners were warned the cruise ships would go somewhere else.

In 2018 the CLIA announced there would be an increase of 250,000 more visitors for the 2019 season. In response to that announcement a tour company owner stated during peak times it is tight just about everywhere visitors want to go. Comments from operators and the public were concerned if this growth continues it will impact visitors and residents alike. “The consequences are going to be a diminished experience for us as residents in where we live and love to be.”

In 2019, I needed to run an errand downtown, normally avoided during the industrial cruise ship season. I was stunned. The density of visitors on the sidewalks and streets could have been a snap shot of New York City rush hour. After a few moments of observation, what struck me most was that very few people were smiling. A shop owner admitted business was robust; however, it was impossible to navigate the sidewalks to go out for a cup of coffee.

The cruise control initiatives are not banning tourism. They are a last resort to address legitimate concerns and they have certainly caught the attention of those who should have been proactive all along. This is not just a Juneau issue. Currently there are many ports worldwide addressing overtourism, which undermines those reasons tourists visit.

We can do better. Maintain an acceptable quality of life for everyone, keep local people employed and provide a quality experience for all visitors.

This community and the surrounding natural resources belong to all of us.

Linda M. Blefgen is a 60-year resident of Juneau who lives in Auke Bay.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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