Signature gathering can begin on proposed cruise ship limits in Juneau

Juneau City Clerk Beth McEwen walks Karla Hart through what’s in the 225 signature gathering booklets she is picking up at Juneau City Hall on Monday, May 3, 2021. To get the questions on the October ballot, Hart and her volunteers will need to collect nearly 3,000 qualified signatures for each question she’s proposing to limit cruise ship traffic. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The locals who want to limit cruise ship traffic in Juneau can begin collecting signatures to get their three proposals on the next municipal election ballot. 

The lead sponsor, Karla Hart, picked up the official signature booklets at City Hall on Monday. City Clerk Beth McEwen helped deliver 225 official signature gathering booklets to Hart’s Honda hatchback outside City Hall. 

Juneau City Clerk Beth McEwen helps wheel 225 signature gathering booklets out to Karla Hart’s car at Juneau City Hall on Monday, May 3, 2021. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Volunteer Steve Krall got the first few booklets.  

“You can be number one, eh, Steve?” Hart said. 

“Oh boy, that’s exciting,” Krall deadpanned. “It’s a great thing for somebody who doesn’t like talking to people to be doing.”

Hart said that sentiment is pretty common among the volunteers. 

“A lot of people who do this, including myself, are driven by our passion. But it’s not necessarily in our nature … walking out and talking to lots of people,” Hart said. 

If people support these limits, it’s at least partly because they’re not into big crowds. 

Hart is proposing three amendments to the city’s charter targeting cruise ships. One would make Juneau off limits between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m to ships with passenger capacities over 250. One would ban those same ships on Saturdays. And one would ban all cruise ships over 100,000 gross tonnage, beginning in 2026. 

If all three were in effect next year, the local opposition group Protect Juneau’s Future has roughly estimated they would cut passenger visits to Juneau down to a quarter of what’s expected. The group said that’s a conservative estimate based on the 2022 cruise ship calendar. They got there by dropping big ships, Saturday visits, and ships that arrive after 12:30 p.m. The rationale on the last assumption is that after factoring in logistics to actually get passengers on shore and back aboard, their time left to experience Juneau wouldn’t be meaningful.

The group said the lost cruise ship traffic would have ripple effects beyond the visitor industry. Including lost tax revenue that pays for city services the entire community benefits from. 

But Hart said the opposition group’s lost passenger estimate assumes the cruise lines wouldn’t rotate in smaller ships and that cruise lines with smaller ships wouldn’t fill openings the bigger ships give up. Hart said it also assumes sudden changes, but if voters approve the size limit, it wouldn’t take effect until 2026.

“Their job is to make the sky fall, or to make it appear that the sky will fall,” Hart said. “I don’t believe that it will.” 

For each of the three proposed ballot questions, Hart and her volunteers will need to get nearly 3,000 qualified signatures by June 2. It’s also possible to get a 10-day extension. 

To be valid, a signature must be from someone registered to vote who’s lived in Juneau for at least 30 days before signing. 

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

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