Win Gruening: Ignoring the consequences of ship-free Saturdays?

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By WIN GRUENING

Backers of a cruise initiative to block large cruise ships from docking in Juneau on Saturdays and the 4th of July say they have sufficient signatures to place the question on the ballot.

Now voters need to decide whether or not to vote for it on Oct. 1.

The “Ship-Free” social media campaign pages suggest that Juneau’s skies are choked with smoke, its waters fouled by pollution, hiking trails are overcrowded, and its downtown core is unlivable.

That isn’t the truth and most Juneauites know it.

Initiative boosters have accused opponents of the measure of ignoring quality of life issues and only caring about the economic benefits of the visitor industry.

But who is actually ignoring the consequences?

The economic benefits of the visitor industry directly enhance Juneau’s annual budget as well as its quality of life. To dismiss those benefits as less important is dishonest. 

Recognizing those contributions requires more than lip service. Can we start from an initial common set of facts and engage in honest communication?

Cruise supporters have, from the outset, acknowledged industry impacts, and have been willing to work to alleviate them. The Ship-Free folks are more interested in sabotaging the public process instead of working toward mutually achievable goals. 

Regrettably, this type of initiative campaign often devolves into an overwrought, fact-free litany of misconceptions and half-truths about the industry.

The initiative declares that “excess human presence… sullies the sentient, sacred, divine, and living ancestral natural environment necessary for cultural and spiritual health and growth.”

It says the city “failed to balance the economic benefits to some against the economic and other harms of the many.”

“Harm” is a very strong word that usually conveys deliberately inflicted physical injury. This emotional narrative discounts a long-standing cooperative relationship that has successfully mitigated many visitor impacts. The Ship-Free petition seeks to undermine years of successful, good-faith collaboration engaged in by the city and the industry.

Visitor industry businesses and their employees are actively engaged members of the community who contribute generously to a myriad of civic and non-profit endeavors. The cruise industry has agreed to liberal uses of passenger fees (over $20 million annually) allowing them to be allocated for a variety of projects benefiting all of Juneau, not just cruise passengers.

An Alaska DEC science panel concluded that cruise ship water treatment systems, “are the most advanced, effective, and proven treatment systems available and…are significantly more effective than most municipal systems.” Cruise ship smoke emissions are abated by state-of-the-art technology. Juneau, in concert with the industry, was the first port in the world to offer environmentally-friendly (hydroelectric) shore power for ships.

Under industry-backed Tourism Best Management Practices, many voluntary policies have been implemented including avoiding certain streets, local parks and trails, reducing flightseeing noise, staging traffic to minimize congestion, enacting stricter whale-watching rules, and staffing a Tourism Hot-Line for potential complaints.

Initiative sponsors are also short-circuiting the work of Juneau’s citizen-backed Visitor Industry Task Force. The initiative imposes a vote on a question neither the public nor the CBJ Assembly had a voice in formulating, despite the fact the city and industry just successfully concluded negotiations limiting daily passenger visitation.

Eighty-five large cruise ships are scheduled to visit Juneau in 2025 on Saturday and July 4, representing about 12% of all port calls. It will be almost impossible to accommodate them on other days due to scheduling conflicts, and the VITF-recommended 5-ship limit and proposed ban on “hot berthing”.

While estimates vary, when including purchases by passengers, crewmembers, and cruise lines, as well as passenger fees, the loss of direct spending could approach $40 million per year. City revenues could be reduced by $4 million annually. 

Can the Ship-Free boosters point to city programs and services that should be slashed to offset the revenue reduction? With city leaders loath to cut expenditures, Juneau property owners can expect their property taxes to increase commensurately. 

Juneau’s success in resolving tourism impacts argues for promoting cooperation, allowing voluntary limits to work, and negotiating changes if necessary.

Furthermore, the legality of blocking ships from visiting Juneau is questionable and most likely will be tested in court.

Juneau voters can decide which they prefer: expensive litigation or continuing collaboration.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.

28 COMMENTS

  1. They know. They just don’t care.

    It’s funny how they worried about things “sacred and divine”. Most of the supporters endorse neither.

    Want to embrace the Tongass in all its wonder? Drive out past Auke Bay. Or go up to Eagle Crest. Of the Shrine. Or Echo Cove.

    These people want to destroy the economic engine of Juneau for…reasons?

    And don’t think for a moment if they pull this off, they won’t be back for more restrictions.

    • Avenger: Of course Franklin is ‘Dead’ all winter…That is when the carpetbaggers take the ‘economy’ to the Caribbean.

      • Bob,
        I recall South Franklin back in it’s heyday! Rats, drunken brawls, stinky old slimy buildings, rotten stairways leading up to Gastineau Ave and children waiting in the cold outside the door of a Bar.
        Tourist, the new buildings , new docks, local folks making $, clean sidewalks, yeah it really sucks. And to think some call that progress!

      • Bob, carpetbaggers? Wouldn’t that include many working in the seasonal construction industry? Or the fishing industry? Or itinerate medical and dental professionals? Or the seasonal legislature with their workers. All these examples could be considered carpetbaggers as much as the tourism industry. There would be little if anything in Juneau without what you would call carpetbaggers. How do you sustain yourself here.

  2. Can somebody give me a better example of garbage emotional tripe than that line: “excess human presence… sullies the sentient, sacred, divine, and living ancestral natural environment…” ? I guess by their exaggeration, they’ve done us a favor. It makes them look dumber than usual.

      • Bob, you are on to something here, pack up the Legislature and the disease of Government will soon be dispelled, hell, the sunshine might even grace Juneau more than .0125% of the days of summer!
        I like it! (lets locate the Capital in Tok!)

        • Brilliant Robert. The corruption and tyranny of government is easily cured by simply moving the administrative state to remote locations. Why is your idea not a national movement?

  3. Leftist, much like the toddlers they actually are, will only focus on the potential good, never any possible consequences.
    They do not care that cake for dinner every night will make them fat, and likely result in an early death, they want cake.
    .
    This is no different. They want something, and just assume nothing else will change in any way because they demand it.

  4. Typical, leftist trope. Like our dearly demented CIC says, “We want truth, not facts!” If they are so worried about sullying the devine…maybe they should go back to California or Oregon.

  5. Can’t speak for my community nor would think it a worthy choice. however as a citizen of the world,
    perhaps this action would encourage the thought of extending time in other ports to make up the loss of Juneau stops. An extra two or four or more hours in ports already secured allowing the extended opportunity to spend funds allocated for gifts and mementos in Juneau, can readily be obtained in similar port stops, be it Ketchikan, Hoonah, Or “Whoops, sorry, with Sitka pulling off a similar effort,
    the number of willing ports would dwindle making this suggestion even more apt.
    Even Wrangell has been discovered by a smaller “Large Size”,vessels (New Amsterdam) and Klawock too is looking to mimic Hoonah, perhaps not the giants of the seas, but some percentage of what is a concern to Juneau. Pull the dollars away and then listen to the whiling and wining that will replace the lost revenue and what little private enterprise Juneau enjoys. What would be a curiosity is a renewed effort to move the Capital. Starting to make more sense as the attitude of Juneau unfolds with the negativity associated with this economic strangulation. Just saying,
    Cheers.

  6. 1. The ships bring excitement and energy to Juneau. Some residents look forward to seeing the people arrive!
    2. Only certain trails are crowded, and they are crowded even when no ships have docked.
    3. If the tourists don’t come, Juneau loses retail shops and Juneau residents will have to rely on Amazon to get anything.

  7. Without going into details, there will be litigation. The initiative attempts to affect both interstate commerce and the regulation of navigable waters. Voting for this could impact Juneau’s treasury and may result in costs passed on to taxpayers related to litigation.

    • I don’t think this flies this time around. But the odds go up every time this crap gets forced on us.

      The same people who push this farce are also usually the ones who are choking the life out of the community.

      The more people get fed up and leave/forced out, the more clout the champagne socialists gain.

  8. While they’re at it, perhaps we should give them more solitude. How about we move the Capital and state government out then. That’ll give Juneauites plenty of time for contemplation.

  9. Kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Sounds about right. Again, move the capital and that will give Juneau much more needed space because all the out of town lobbyists will leave also. This will make more tourist space. Problem solved.

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