Petersburg extends health mandate for passenger ships, but only through February

The Safari Quest tied up in Petersburg in 2018 (Alanna Elder/KFSK)

Besides approving COVID-19 mandates on testing and masking Monday, Petersburg’s assembly also extended a health order for cruise ships docking here. That measure requires pre-approval before cruise and other passenger ships can tie up. But the assembly stopped short of a much longer continuation.

The rule, known as health mandate five, has been on the books since last spring, with multiple extensions since late April. The community saw no visits this past summer from the overnight small boat cruise fleet, though more than one company tried to come up with COVID protocols that would work for Southeast towns in 2020.

Dave Berg is co-owner of Viking Travel and represents some of the companies that call here. He said in a radio call in show that cruise lines are selling trips to Alaska for 2021.

“They’re going ahead with the idea that they’re going to have a handle on COVID testing and approaching the community with a plan that they presume will be approved by the EOC here in Petersburg,” Berg said.

The mandate gives the borough’s public health officer the authority to approve or deny passengers disembarking from a ship based on health conditions on that vessel.

A number of local residents calling into this week’s meeting opposed health mandates, including the cruise extension.

Donna Marsh called the nearly year-long extension for mandate five “absurd.”

“Pushing these COVID restrictions out to the end of the third quarter 2021 will thoroughly decimate already struggling charter, sightseeing, passenger service businesses as well as the hospitality industry here in Petersburg,” Marsh said. “We cannot survive on government bailouts, they are not the answer. Letting people run their lives and businesses as they see fit is the appropriate thing to do. I would urge you to let this thing expire and be done.”

As proposed, the mandate would have stretched until the end of next October, putting it in place for cruise season all next year.

Assembly member Dave Kensinger wanted a shorter extension, only through the end of February. He wanted to be part of a regional discussion on the 2021 season and thought the mandate would exclude Petersburg from that.

“If we could provide some level of consistency between all the different communities in the region, like have one policy for the entire region it’d make it a lot easier for these operators to operate,” Kensinger said. “I think we all want to, most of us want to see them, be able to come back to town again this next summer.”

Others on the assembly were happy to take up the cruise mandate every few months, based on changing conditions of the pandemic. But assembly member Jeff Meucci called for the full extension to cover next year’s season.

“I am really comfortable with this Petersburg borough public health mandate number five for vessel docking and disembarkment,” Meucci said. “This gives us total over control vessels sailing into Petersburg. They have to run their plan through our health officer. There’s protocols they all have to abide by. I don’t want to lose that control.”

Meucci was the only vote against shortening the extension to the end of February and it passed 6-1. Mayor Mark Jensen voted against the mandate with that change, but it passed 6-1 as well.