The number of cruise passengers flooding the small town of Sitka, Alaska, has left a group of residents clamoring that a cruise passenger limit be imposed.
This past summer, cruise ships transported around 560,000 visitors to Sitka, breaking last year’s record and doubling the number of passengers from previous years.
Resident Larry Edwards is spearheading a proposal stipulating that no more than 240,000 cruise passengers be allowed to visit the state’s oldest city each year. He says it’s about regaining control and restoring order in the local community.
Looking to Set a Cruise Passenger Limit
“It’s just absolute chaos,” he said. “I feel that the cruise industry thinks it’s the planning director of the city and that we have to march to its orders. I think we need to take control back.”
Though it’s the first time a vote about it will occur on a municipal level, Edwards shared that the issue isn’t new. “It’s been controversial since the 1990s. And nobody’s really ever asked…the people of the city of Sitka what they want… “
He said that compared to Bar Harbor Maine’s cap of 1,000 passengers per day, including crew members, the 240,000 cap per year is much more relaxed. Edwards also mentioned that the ordinance he drafted, which includes daily and weekly limits, considers the number of cruise passengers who visited the city annually before the pandemic.
If implemented, cruise operators will need to secure permits from the city and provide daily updates on the number of passengers and crew members.
Municipal Administrator John Leach hasn’t reviewed Edwards’ ordinance yet, but he expressed concern over its legal, constitutional, and economic ramifications.
Fearing litigation, Leach said, “There is a big litigation risk, and the way we’re going to have to pay for that litigation, when and if it comes this way, is right out of our general fund. And our general fund is what pays for our public schools, it pays for our infrastructure, and it pays for our public safety.”
But before it takes effect, there are considerable hurdles ahead for Edwards. Aside from collecting more than 800 signatures within three months, it has to be approved by the city. Once ratified, it will be voted on by Sitkans, possibly by early December.
Stika, Alaska, is a sought-after destination for kayaking, exploring the Fortress of the Bear and Raptor Center, and taking whale-watching tours. The Alaska cruise season runs from April to October.
Currently Sitka does not have a cruise passenger limit.
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