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By NICOLE JOHNSON
All you have to do is read the paper this summer to know that Ketchikan is in a state of flux.
Ward Cove dock, port expansion, upland development, the mayor taking free cruises are all pointing towards our community's clear move towards a cruise ship centered world.
If we take a quick look at the trends from the past, we realize that the number and size of ships coming to Ketchikan is going to do nothing but increase.
Ten years ago, a busy cruise ship day meant 6,000 passengers in town, now we see 12,00 passengers and 5,000 crew being brought to our shore in a single day. Currently, the larger ships can carry 6,000 passengers and will no doubt be destined for Alaska. With larger and larger ships already scheduled over the next five years, daily visitors could be as high as 20,000 to 25,000 passengers.
The Ward Cove berths have been touted as being intended to decrease the burden of tourism on the downtown area, but anyone can clearly see that additional docks will only increase capacity to drop thousands more tourists into Ketchikan. Do we really believe that these tourists will stay at the new Mill at Ward Cove, or will thousands board a tour bus to go see Creek Street or take a zipline tour south of town? Contrary to what we have been told, this will only increase the daily burden on our infrastructure and our sanity.
We have the opportunity to protect our community. Our representatives seem focused on economic development of the area, and while that sounds good, there is a clear difference between what is good for the economy and what is good for us as individuals in the community.
If Disneyland build a resort here it might look great on paper, but none of us would want to live here. It is time for our representatives in the borough and the city to listen to the individuals of the community, not just the business and the lure of economic prosperity.
Communities like Haines and Wrangell have made a choice to keep their spirit, while communities like Skagway, who's infrastructure is substantially owned and controlled by Carnival Cruise Lines, are now in the grip of becoming a new age “company town.”
We stand on the precipice of a decision. Do we define ourselves as a small Alaska town or do we change our position and become a seasonal terminal for the cruise industry?
The solution is simple: a cap on the number of passengers allowed in town each day. The cap would allow our community to build and plan infrastructure that support the burden the industry adds to the community. It would mean a dock that was in Ward Cove would actually spread the burden of passengers, not just increase the capacity.
This moment is our opportunity to stop overdevelopment. A combined city and borough visitor cap of 15,000 passengers would allow the industry to continue to build with a promise to not overwhelm our town. Over-tourism is a growing crisis around the world, and events in Europe can show the future of our town if we fail to act.
Our representatives need to stop and realize that economic health is not the only indicator of a healthy community. We want to keep our community a quality home for the people who live here. Let's not sell out to an industry that has no loyalty to us, and is known for its cutthroat business practices and its often questionable and frequently illegal environmental practices.
Let's not just complain to our friends and neighbors about where our representatives are leading our community. Write the City Council, the Borough Assembly and the city and borough mayors. Tell them that you want a daily cap on cruise passengers.
It only takes a minute to type a quick email, have your voice heard and let them know that although we welcome tourism, we have to keep in mind that it may be their holiday, but it is our home.
Nicole Johnson is a concerned resident of Ketchikan.