Sitka voters may get chance to vote on limiting cruise ship traffic

A ballot initiative in Sitka aimed at capping cruise visitators at an interim level of 240,000 starting in 2024 — less than half this summer’s count — may be headed for a special election this winter.

“Win or lose, it’s going to get some good discussion going,” said Larry Edwards, one of 45 co-sponsors on the application to put the visitor limit to a vote in a special election.

Edwards submitted his application for the initiative to the city clerk on Sept. 15 and, pending approval by the clerk, he hopes to begin gathering petition signatures in October.

Edwards said the purpose of his initiative is to improve safety and alleviate nuisances by reducing cruise ship-related overcrowding of people and vehicles on Sitka’s highways, streets, sidewalks and public places; and protect Sitka’s rural small-town character and way of life.

The proposed annual interim cap of 240,000 visitors in Edwards’ proposal is based on a “rough estimate for the midrange number of people who came ashore from cruise ships from 2001 to 2019.

“Personally, I think we are overloaded,” he said. “Number one we shouldn’t be closing Lincoln Street. We shouldn’t be put in a circumstance where we feel the need to do that for safety.”

Cruise ship passenger traffic is expected to reach 560,000 in Sitka this year.

Edwards said in the past two seasons he’s been hearing complaints from people affected by air and noise pollution of buses, cruise ships and other traffic.

“It’s the mobs of people on e-bikes, on the streets, on the trails, on the sidewalks, it’s a mess. It shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in 2022 and certainly should not have been allowed to happen in 2023.”

Edwards is a 40-plus-year resident, who has been an activist in the past on environmental and forestry issues. He was co-sponsor of a ballot issue in 1995 that would have created a clear-cut-free zone within a 35-mile radius of downtown Sitka. It lost by four votes.

He was a leader in a 1990s class-action lawsuit that held Alaska Pulp Corp. liable for pollution of the water around Sitka. The settlement led to the establishment of a multimillion-dollar charitable trust that makes annual awards to Sitka schools and charitable nonprofits.


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