Sitka Initiative to Limit Cruise Ship Visitors Denied, Residents Vow to Continue Efforts

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In Sitka, Alaska, a recent attempt to control the influx of cruise ship visitors has hit a roadblock. On July 2, the municipal clerk denied a petition for a ballot initiative that aimed to cap the number of cruise passengers visiting the city.

Small Town SOUL, a nonprofit advocacy organization supporting the citizens of Sitka requesting the partial ban, requested Sitka place a proposed ordinance that will place visitation caps on cruise ships and shorten the summer cruise season onto the City & Borough’s October election ballot.

With cruise passengers descending on the town of 8,300 people swelling to nearly 600,000 annually, Sitka resident and Small Town SOUL secretary Larry Edwards has been leading a call to limit passengers to 4,500 per day and set a cap that reduces annual visitors by half.

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

However, ahead of the Independence Day holiday, the ballot request was denied for having “misleading, confusing, and incomplete terms.” The city also said the request violates the Tonnage Clause that “prohibits states from levying taxes or duties on ships based on their tonnage without the consent of Congress.”

The U.S. Constitution clause, found in Article 1, was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788.

Despite the setback, the group behind the initiative remains determined. “We aren’t giving up, and aim to get caps on the volume of cruise passengers in Sitka to a vote of the people,” said Edwards.

Sitka’s struggle with cruise ship regulations is part of a broader conversation and growing concerns over the environmental and social impacts of the increasing cruise traffic in Alaskan communities.

“Juneau and Sitka are not the only communities to formally question the cost benefit analysis that underlies the cruise ship economy,” Edwards continued, referring to Juneau’s recent decision to limit daily passengers in 2026 to 16,000, and 12,000 on Saturdays.

“In 2021, the Skagway mayor floated the idea of a cap on cruise ship passengers – the town of fewer than 1,000 residents welcomes as many as 12,000 passengers a day – but the idea never made it to a municipal ballot,” he said.

Persistent Push for Cruise Control in Sitka

The resistance against the escalating cruise ship presence in Sitka has been growing since 2022, when Edwards first approached city officials with a proposal to implement a cap of 240,000 passengers per year, along with a weekly maximum of 13,350 visitors.

The city rejected the initial proposal in September 2023 also based on the grounds that it was “confusing, misleading, and incomplete.”

Cruise Ship Docked in Sitka, Alaska
Cruise Ship Docked in Sitka, Alaska (Photo Credit: Ungnoi Lookjeab / Shutterstock)

Undeterred by the early setback, Edwards collaborated with Small Town SOUL to draft a more comprehensible plan in time for the upcoming elections. The current initiative, if it finds its way to the ballot, will allow Sitka residents to vote on whether or not to cap cruise passengers disembarking to 4,500 per day with an annual cap of 300,000.

Read Also: Your Guide to the Best Alaska Cruise Ports

The initiative also proposed a mandatory no-ship day each week, exempting only smaller ships, to give residents a respite from the continuous flow of visitors.

Additionally, the cruise season in Sitka, which currently begins in April and runs through October, would be cut back and limited to May 1 to September 30.

The initiative also proposes penalties for cruise lines that exceed their scheduled “persons ashore” limits and calls for accurate passenger and crew counts, demanding independent verification to improve data accuracy.

With all major cruise lines making stops in Alaska, and Sitka being a pivotal port, the proposed reduction of visitor numbers could significantly impact the cruise industry.

Such a drastic cut would face strong opposition from the Cruise Lines International Association, which already contends with the logistical hurdles presented by Alaska’s limited port availability.

Small Town SOUL is reviewing legal materials following the denial and plans to submit another request.

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