Alaskan City Rejects Petition to Limit Cruise Passengers

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Sitka, Alaska, a popular port call on sailings to the Last Frontier state, put the kibosh on a local resident’s proposal to limit the number of cruise ship guests visiting the city.

The citizen’s petition to local government claimed that the increasing numbers of cruise arrivals are detrimental to the small community.

Sitka Officials Deny a Citizen’s Petition

There will be no limit on the number of cruise ship guests disembarking in Sitka, a small city of roughly 8,500 residents some 90 miles southeast of Juneau, following the local government’s denial of a citizen’s petition to cap cruise arrivals at 240,000 per year.

Sitka, a frequent port call by ships exploring the Alaskan coast on seasonal voyages, received more than 550,000 cruise guests during the 2023 season just ended, a number that is more than double that of pre-pandemic years.

This year’s record also substantially eclipsed the 2022 record of 383,000 cruise visitors, indicating Alaska’s robust popularity overall as well as Sitka’s attraction as a sought-after port call.

Sitka Cruise Visitors
Sitka, Alaska (Photo Credit: Jeff Whyte)

Local resident Larry Edwards had petitioned the city to enact the 240,000 cap, which included a weekly limit of 13,350 cruise guests plus a daily limit based on the local population, all in an effort to avoid overcrowding the town with tourists, improve safety, and maintain Sitka’s small town character, among other reasons.

In addition to the visitor cap, the petition called for the creation of a Sitka port district and for the issuing of permits to all ships seeking to visit the port. As required under local rules, Edwards had 40 additional local signatures on his petition.

The city denied the petition on September 29, 2023, for several reasons. As reported by Alaska Public Media, Sitka’s municipal attorney found that the petition’s plan for enforcing the limits were confusing, misleading, and incomplete.

Additionally, he said, the city cannot create a port district by way of a local referendum, since the Alaska State Assembly is the body that allocates public assets. Such an effort, the attorney said, would usurp the Assembly’s authority.

Port Call Offers Exciting Shore Excursions

Virtually every cruise line that operates seasonally in Alaska includes Sitka on its itineraries, typically just before or after a Juneau port call. The city is spread across Baranof Island and Chichagof Island.

Among the popular sightseeing and shore excursion options are the Alaska Raptor Center, Sitka National Historical Park, which features native Alaskan artisans creating totemic art, and the Fortress of the Bears, where visitors can watch brown and black bears from special viewing platforms.

Cruise Ship Docked in Sitka, Alaska
Cruise Ship Docked in Sitka, Alaska (Photo Credit: Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock)

Activities popular with cruise visitors to Sitka include kayaking, whale-watching tours, fishing, hiking, and flight-seeing.

Sitka residents are not alone in seeking local rules to govern the number of cruise ship arrivals in small towns or cities. An ongoing legal battle in Bar Harbor, Maine, has similarities to the Sitka case.

In Bar Harbor, an extremely popular destination on Canada/New England cruises, local residents in 2022 voted to cap cruise ship arrivals at 1,000 per day. The town already had a cap in place, of 3,500 per day in high season and 5,500 per day in the shoulder seasons.

Read Also: IDEAL Things to Do in Sitka, Alaska

However, an appeal of the vote to further lower the limit of cruise arrivals is ongoing, after a local business group sued the town. The group’s lawsuit claims that cruise ships represent interstate commerce, which falls under the control of the US government and not any individual town. The case is in federal court, and a decision is expected sometime this year.

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