Juneau to vote on Saturday cruise ship ban as Sitka's passenger cap proposal fails

   July 10, 2024 ,   Cruise Industry

If the Juneau city assembly does not act beforehand, a proposal to ban cruise ships on Saturdays will be on the municipal ballot in October. Meanwhile, a similar initiative in Sitka to impose passenger limits on cruise ships was denied.

These actions are part of a wider reassessment in Southeast Alaska regarding the impacts of increasing cruise ship tourism.

Cruise ship passengers are vital to the regional economy. However, residents like Karla Hart in Juneau argue that the surge in passenger numbers detracts from the quality of life.

Hart stated she remembers what Juneau was like and what it could be, adding that ship-free Saturdays would give everyone in Juneau one day each week without the constant impacts from the cruise industry. 

Hart and her supporters secured enough signatures to place the proposal on the October ballot. An opposing campaign to prevent residents from signing the petition did not succeed.

Juneau has recently agreed to a voluntary cap on cruise passengers, limiting them to 16,000 per day starting in 2026. Hart feels this measure doesn't address the current issues faced by the town's 30,000 residents. She commented that most days, they don’t have 16,000 cruise passengers, yet they still feel overwhelmed.

Hart’s initiative gathered 2,359 signatures from Juneau residents. The city clerk certified these signatures and presented them to the assembly on July 1. The assembly has until August 15 to either adopt the measure or let voters decide on October 1.

In Sitka, the city attorney ruled that a similar ballot initiative did not meet legal standards, as noted by Klaudia Leccese of the nonprofit Small Town SOUL. This was the 3rd attempt this year to limit cruise passengers.

Leccese said via text on July 3 they are disappointed by the decision and are reviewing the city attorney's advice to address the concerns in a 4th initiative application soon.

The proposal aimed to cap Sitka's cruise passengers at 300,000 annually, with no more than 4,500 per day, and restrict ships to the period between May 1 and September 30. This year, Sitka expects ~600,000 cruise passengers, with as many as 9,300 visitors on its busiest days, surpassing the town’s population of ~8,400.

Supporters believe the initiative would enhance safety on roads, trails, public places, and sidewalks by reducing overcrowding, preserving the small-town character, and maintaining Sitka as a high-quality visitor destination.

City attorneys rejected the proposed ballot measure on July 2, citing misleading, confusing, and incomplete terms and violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Tonnage Clause, which prevents states or municipalities from interfering with interstate and foreign commerce by imposing port access charges based on vessel capacity.

Juneau and Sitka are not alone in reassessing the cruise ship economy. In 2021, Skagway's mayor suggested capping cruise ship passengers. Despite welcoming up to 12,000 passengers daily in a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, the idea did not reach the municipal ballot.