Activists want voters to consider limiting cruise ship access to Juneau

a person stands in front of a giant cruise ship
A passenger stands on the dock in Juneau near the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, May 19, 2019. (Ryan Cunningham/KTOO)

Activists in Juneau filed paperwork Monday which could lead to a local ballot questions in the fall asking voters to limit cruise ships’ access to the capital city.

Karla Hart filed the official paperwork. She’s been critical of the crowding and impacts on quality of life that have grown with cruise ship tourism. She’s also concerned Juneau has become too dependent on the economic power wielded by a few cruise lines.

“I’m a big believer in direct democracy, and this is a chance for us to say if we think that there are too many people coming on cruise ships to Juneau,” Hart said. “And to say if we think that people in Juneau want to have evenings quiet and for ourselves in the community and people who are staying over. And whether we want Saturdays for ourselves in the community and for people staying over.”

Hart is proposing three amendments to the City and Borough of Juneau’s charter:

  • The first would ban big cruise ships in town between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • The second would ban big cruise ships on Saturdays.
  • The third would ban cruise ships over a certain size beginning in 2026. It would affect megaships like the Ovation of the Seas, as well as some of the less extraordinary ships that have visited Juneau for years.

Hart said she isn’t trying to stop the industry, just strike a better balance.

Hart’s paperwork is the first step in the ballot initiative process. The city clerk has until May 3 to certify or deny the paperwork.

If there are no problems, the organizers’ next big hurdle will be to collect nearly 3,000 signatures of qualified local voters in 30 days.

“I would encourage people who think that everyone in the community loves the cruise industry and will vote no on these to sign the initiative and to put it on the ballot so we can put this to rest,” Hart said.

The charter amendment questions could appear on ballots in the next regular municipal election on Oct. 5.

Industry group Cruise Lines International Association Alaska provided a statement by email. Spokesperson Lanie Downs said the possibility of a second season without cruise traffic is hurting Juneau, and that Hart’s initiatives could lead to further losses that “would devastate Juneau even more.” 

Before the pandemic, tourism was Juneau’s biggest private sector employer.

Downs said the industry continuously strives to improve its relationship with the community through best management practices, open dialogue and collaboration.