Juneau will hold its municipal election for mayor, two Assembly seats, and three seats on the local school board on Oct. 5.
In addition, three initiative petitions are circulating in the community that would put severe limits on cruise ships going forward:
The cruise ship hours initiative would prohibit cruise ships with more than 250 passengers from being at the dock or at anchor in Gastineau Channel between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am. If a ship comes in after 1 pm and has to leave at 7 pm, ships are likely to just not to include Juneau on their itineraries, since they could not provide a great experience for guests.
This no-ship Saturdays initiative would prohibit cruise ships with more than 250 passengers from coming to Juneau on Saturdays. Because ships are going to other ports and must coordinate with those communities, they may just have to skip Juneau.
This initiative would prohibit cruise ships larger than 100,000 gross tonnage from being at dock or anchor in Juneau after Jan. 1, 2026. The Grand Princess, and Star Princess, for instance, have been coming to Juneau since the early 2000, and they would be banned. Ships such as the Discovery Princess, with 144,000 gross tonnage, would also have to bypass Juneau.
With these three anti-cruise ship petitions looming, other communities might pick up more cruise ships, as beneficiaries to Juneau’s reticence to be a port city.
The petitions’ organizer, Karla Hart, a critic of the cruise economy who leads a group called Cruise Control, has until June 3 to collect about 3,000 signatures on each of the petitions in order for them to appear on the Oct. 5 ballot. Her group has been relying on pop-up signature gathering events and person-to-person contact.
Cruise Control is also advocating for a vaccine passport and says the fact that 95 percent of passengers will be vaccinated is not good enough.
“The cruise industry is reluctant to follow CDC rules on vaccines. Passengers vaccinated at 95% is not enough as far as I’m concerned. A vaccine passport is a good idea. The huge crowds we experience when ships come to Juneau are the perfect set up for the spread of COVID-19,” the group wrote. It also wrote, “The cruise lines think they own us, and they do when our elected officials look the other way when they pollute, pay nothing in taxes, treat their crews like slaves, capture every dime possible onboard and leave us the crumbs. Our Assembly needs to regulate. Allowing the industry to self-regulate through the Tourism Best Management Practices is a joke. Ever tried to call with a complaint? It’s a black hole.”
Another group, Protect Juneau’s Future, is making the case that the initiatives would harm the Juneau economy. McHugh Pierre, president and CEO of Goldbelt, Inc., has spearheaded that group, and Pierre has been speaking around town about the dangers posed by the Cruise Control initiatives.
One local business owner said that the Cruise Control group is telling lies about the cruise ships, such as claiming they pollute the waters of Alaska, when in fact the ones that come to Alaska have the most stringent water systems in the world.
It’s already illegal to discharge sewage within three miles of any U.S. coastline. But the big ships have better wastewater treatment facilities than every one of the communities they visit in Alaska. The smaller ships that Cruise Control prefers have no such tertiary treatment.
A recent study of Ketchikan beaches, for example, showed high fecal coliform levels, even though no cruise ships have been there for 18 months. The pollution is coming from the community itself.
To ensure the ships are complying with environmental regulations, the Department of Environmental Conservation is planning to inspect every ship within the first few weeks they are in Alaska waters this season. This inspection program replaces the Ocean Rangers program that spent over $40 million since its inception, which had onboard inspectors from the State of Alaska. It was discontinued two years ago due to budget cuts. Instead, existing staff in the agency will be performing inspections.
Hart of Juneau’s Cruise Control said on KINY’s Action Line that she feels certain she can get the signatures, which would set up a major political battle for the Oct. 5 mail-in election, pitting government workers who have not missed a day of work against those Juneauites who work in the productive economy.
It would also mean the struggling productive economy workers would have to fight for their livelihoods during the late summer and fall, the exact same time they are simply trying to stay alive in a shortened cruise season.
The election will be mail-in only for the second year in a row. Juneau Assembly this spring voted to have the Anchorage Municipality’s Election Office manage a mail-in election to prevent people from participating in a normal in-person election.