Residents Propel Initiative to Limit Cruise Ship Activity in Juneau

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Residents of Juneau, Alaska, the state capital, have successfully collected the necessary signatures for a crucial ballot measure aimed at limiting large cruise ship activities.

The initiative, labeled “ship-free Saturdays,” proposes to prohibit cruise ships carrying over 250 passengers from docking on Saturdays and on July 4 each year.

Despite missing the required 2,359 signatures needed to certify the petition by the Clerk’s office in June, the campaign gained the momentum it needed by July 1.

Cruise Ships in Juneau, Alaska
Cruise Ships in Juneau, Alaska (Photo Credit: David Rajter / Shutterstock)

“The Clerk’s office has completed its review of the initiative petition and concludes that with the supplemental signatures submitted, it meets the requirement to obtain 2,359 signatures in order to certify the petition and is therefore considered sufficient,” wrote Elizabeth “Beth” McEwen, CBJ municipal clerk/election official, to Juneau Cruise Control.

The organization is focused on balancing the economic benefits of the cruise industry with the sustainable and controlled development of Juneau.

The letter went on to say that McEwen would be “forwarding this certification to the Assembly,” which has until August 15 to take action. 

“Should the Assembly choose not to act, the question will appear on the October 1, 2024, Regular Municipal Election Ballot,” she said.

This would give Juneau residents a chance to officially place a ban on cruise ships, already limited to 16,000 passengers per day and 12,000 on Saturdays per a recent agreement between the city and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

However, the Assembly could “act” by formally rejecting the petition’s proposals, which could result in the residents needing to take legal action to get the initiative on the ballot in October. 

Juneau Grapples with Cruise Control

In 2023, Juneau recorded a historic high of 1.6 million visitors, marking a 23 percent increase over the busiest pre-pandemic year, 2019. Residents claim the surge has significantly impacted local life and the natural surroundings that make the city a sought-after cruise destination.

In an attempt to balance cruise tourism with sustainable community objectives, Juneau’s local government and CLIA recently instituted the daily cap on cruise ship passengers for the 2024 season, which runs from late April through the end of October.

In a Memorandum of Agreement, effective May 4, CLIA also committed to providing detailed, quarterly updates on cruise schedules well in advance, minimizing the offloading of bulky waste items, and curtailing their purchase of local drinking water during periods of drought.

Cruise Ships Visiting Juneau, Alaska
Cruise Ships Visiting Juneau, Alaska (Photo Credit: Steve Heap)

However, many local residents argue the measures fall short of addressing the full scope of issues, such as congestion and environmental degradation, as well as their quality of life, thus pushing for tighter restrictions on weekends.

Read Also: Your Guide to the Best Alaska Cruise Ports

All major cruise lines currently operate in Alaska, with Juneau serving as a key port of call. Last Saturday, July 6, the city welcomed Carnival Cruise Line’s 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit and 2,866-passenger Carnival Luminosa and Princess Cruises’ 2,600-passenger Grand Princess, all operated by Carnival Corporation. The more than 7,500 passengers that arrived that day does not include crew members.

A recent attempt to get a partial cruise ship ban on the October 1 ballot in Sitka, Alaska, has been rejected three times by its municipal clerk. In that town of only 8,300 residents, residents, are fighting to limit passengers to 4,500 per day, spurred by Juneau’s original success at limiting passenger counts.

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