A new agreement would limit the number of cruise passengers in Alaska's capital. According to one critic, it falls short

JUNIAU, Alaska — A new agreement between Alaska's capital and major cruise lines aims to limit the daily number of cruise passengers arriving in Juneau starting in 2026, although a prominent cruise industry critic said Tuesday that the planned limits are not enough.

The agreement, which was finalized late last week, envisions a daily limit of 16,000 cruise passengers from Sunday to Friday and 12,000 on Saturdays. However, officials said that doesn't necessarily mean there will be that many people every day.

Cruise passenger numbers increased rapidly after two years of pandemics, reaching a record of more than 1.6 million passengers last year in Juneau. That has caused tensions between businesses dependent on tourism and residents fed up with increased traffic, busy trails and the buzz of helicopters taking visitors to glaciers.

Cruise seasons have also gotten longer, with the first boat this year arriving in Juneau in early April and the last arriving in late October. On peak days in the past, passenger numbers were about two-thirds of Juneau's population of about 32,000 people.

A daily limit of five large vessels has been in effect since this season, as part of a separate agreement signed last year.

Alexandra Pierce, director of Juneau's visitors industry, said Tuesday that the goal of the current agreement is to keep the number of cruise passengers roughly stable, around 1.6 million.

“The idea is that the agreement buys everyone time, not just to see if it's sustainable, but to build the infrastructure that will make it feel more sustainable,” she said.

Pierce said she expects a number of projects to be completed over the next five years “that will make our current numbers feel less impactful.” She mentioned plans for a gondola at the city's ski area, updates to the downtown sea walk and increased visitor capacity in the popular Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

The agreement, which was signed by the city manager and executives of major cruise lines, also calls for annual meetings to “review lessons learned, review and optimize next season's operations, and review the parameters, objectives and opportunities of aligning the community and the sector.”

Pierce said city leaders are “trying to balance the needs of our residents, the needs of our economy and the needs for future opportunities for people to remain in our community.”

Longtime industry critic Karla Hart is skeptical of the new deal, saying it does not do enough to address many residents' concerns that current levels of tourism are unsustainable.

“It feels like we are being guided again, and the expansion will continue and more time will pass” and the consequences will continue, she said.

Hart is helping to advance a proposed local ballot initiative that would implement “ship-free Saturdays,” in which no cruise ships with a capacity of at least 250 passengers would be allowed to dock in Juneau on Saturdays or the Fourth of July. measure is underway. If the measure is approved, it could appear on the October ballot.

Renée Limoge Reeve, vice president of government and community relations for Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, a trade group, said initiatives “take away the opportunity for collaboration and discussion, and I think that leaves a lot to be desired.”

She said the agreements with Juneau are the first such agreements the industry has signed in Alaska and underscore the cruise lines' commitment “to being good partners in the communities we visit.” Juneau and other southeastern Alaska communities are popular stops on cruises departing from Seattle or Vancouver. The much smaller community of Sitka is also grappling with the debate over tourist numbers.

Reeve and Pierce also participated in a Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce news conference Tuesday to discuss the agreement.

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