By Shannon Haugland
Sitka Sentinel 

Sitka rejects ballot initiative petition to limit cruise ship visitors

 

October 18, 2023 | View PDF



Sitka’s municipal clerk has notified resident Larry Edwards that his application to circulate a petition for a ballot initiative to limit cruise ship visitors to Sitka has been turned down.

Clerk Sara Peterson notified Edwards that the proposal would be an “impermissible appropriation of a public asset,” which is prohibited by the state constitution’s provision for citizen initiatives.

Edwards filed the application on Sept. 15, with 43 other co-sponsors, in response to the growth in cruise ship visitation which reached record numbers in 2022 and again this summer.

If the municipality had approved the petition, supporters would have needed to gather enough signatures to get the question on the ballot.

Edwards proposed a cap at 240,000 visitors a year to provide relief to residents starting in 2024.

The goal, he said, is to reduce the number of cruise visitors in order to improve safety on roads and sidewalks, help preserve Sitkans’ quality of life, the small-town way of life and the visitors’ experience. The cap proposed is an average of Sitka’s highest 10 cruise ship years pre-pandemic since 2000, but far less than half of this year’s expected 583,000 passengers.

Edwards said he was disappointed but will continue to seek a public vote on the cruise ship limit issue. He had no further comment.

Municipal Attorney Brian E. Hanson, in a memo dated Sept. 29, said the constitution does not allow ballot initiatives to “dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations.” He explained, “Although appropriation is often understood to refer to money, an initiative setting aside land or any other type of government property may also be an appropriation.”

The initiative would establish a passenger-limited port district in Sitka’s zoning maps, which would be an impermissible appropriation of a public asset, the attorney said.

The initiative also would “usurp the authority of the (borough) assembly to make zoning amendments by ordinance and usurp the right of the planning commission to review and make recommendations on amendments,” Hanson wrote in his memo.

Chris McGraw, owner of the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal, said he was pleased the municipality denied the application to gather voter signatures.

“I think that the issuance of the petition probably brought the discussion of capacity to the forefront of our local tourism discussion,” he said. “But I feel like that discussion is something that needs to be participated in by local stakeholders, citizens, the city and industry to come up with what we feel should be our current level, based on current infrastructure, and things for people to do.”

 

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