Signature gathering falls short for ballot initiatives to limit cruise ship traffic in Juneau

Karla Hart of Juneau Cruise Control delivers letters addressed to the Juneau Assembly regarding cruise ship impacts to City Clerk Beth McEwen at City Hall in Juneau on June 2, 2021. The group wasn’t able to collect enough signatures by the deadline that day to advance ballot questions Hart proposed to limit cruise ship traffic in Juneau. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A group of Juneau residents who want to limit cruise ship traffic in town didn’t get enough signatures to advance any of their three proposed ballot initiatives. Now that group and their opponents are both looking to city officials for what comes next.

Wednesday was the deadline to turn in petition signatures of qualified Juneau voters. Instead of turning in booklets with thousands of signatures to the city clerk, Karla Hart delivered letters addressed to the Juneau Assembly.

“We have submitted a letter to the Assembly that we will not be submitting the petitions,” Karla Hart said at a press conference Wednesday morning after meeting with the city clerk. “While we got a substantial number of signatures, we didn’t meet the target to get onto the ballot.”

Hart wouldn’t say how many signatures they managed to collect. Her group, Juneau Cruise Control, needed about 3,000 for each of their three proposals to go forward.

Hart wouldn’t say how many signatures they managed to collect.

“We’ve collected a substantial number of signatures, but we did not collect enough,” Hart said. “The weather and the pandemic were daunting foes. We’re confident, with a little more time, we could have achieved the number.”

The group wanted to ban cruise ships between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and on Saturdays. And then beginning in 2026, ban cruise ships over a certain size.

The letter Hart’s group submitted asks the Juneau Assembly to impose some limits, and for the cruise ship companies and tour operators to voluntarily limit their impacts.

“We’re going to give the city the chance, and the industry, to do the right thing,” Hart said. “And if they don’t, we’ll be back. Well, we’re not going away at all. We’ll be around.”

Hart said industry opposition and a counter-campaign also made signature gathering difficult. The group claims in its letter that some people were supportive but wouldn’t sign because they feared blowback in their job or at their business or with their friends, neighbors and relatives.

After meeting with the clerk at City Hall, the group took press questions under a park shelter across the street. There weren’t any big cruise ships in town, but Hart kept getting interrupted by trucks hauling shipping containers.

“These guys must be really happy there’s no cruise ships right now!” she said as one truck passed.

Over the noise, supporter Pat White asked, “Can you imagine, buses, this, tourists?”

Laura Martinson is a downtown gift shop owner and co-chair of Protect Juneau’s Future, which ran a “don’t sign” campaign. She says her group was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I don’t think any of us expected this kind of groundswell of unity across the community and we really heard the resounding voices of stakeholders far and wide,” Martinson said.

Martinson said that includes local business owners, employees, Native corporations, unions and citizens without tourism ties concerned about a sustainable future for Juneau.

Martinson said the failure of the ballot initiatives clears the way for discussion and work to continue on managing the growth of the visitor industry.

Deputy City Clerk Di Cathcart stamps letters
Deputy City Clerk Di Cathcart stamps letters addressed to the Juneau Assembly asking for action to limit cruise ship impacts from Juneau Cruise Control at City Hall on June 2, 2021. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

City officials are beginning to work through a long list of recommendations from the Visitor Industry Task Force, whose work got put on the back burner when the pandemic struck last year.

“The visitor industry task force did an enormous amount of work to lay the groundwork on how we should proceed and how we should best manage our industry going forward,” Martinson said.

Assembly member Carole Triem chaired the task force. She said some recommendations, like extending seasonal barriers along sidewalks that keep pedestrians out of the street, have already been implemented. And she said the Assembly will be ready to discuss creating a city staff position focused on tourism impacts soon.

Meanwhile, Hart said volunteer support for her group grew from a handful of people at the beginning of the ballot initiative process, to perhaps 50 now.

“Next time, we’ll start with a lot more power. If there’s a next time,” Hart said.

Her supporters chimed in, “There will be! There will be a next time!”

“I still have hope the Assembly will do the right thing,” Hart said.

City codes may bar Juneau Cruise Control from trying ballot initiatives again for at least six months. Hart said that’s fine by her.

Editor’s note: This story has been expanded with additional comments and context. 

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