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No community remains special by accident

No community remains special by accident

Posted: June 18, 2011 - 10:02pm

People I love and respect depend on tourism for their livelihood. I, like many Juneauites, benefit directly from the cruise ship industry. Now that I have put this disclaimer front and center I want to call attention to an undercurrent of dismay that is being expressed about the notion of moving the Fishermen’s Memorial for the sake of docking ever larger cruise ships.

As noted by Bruce Weyhrauch of the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial Board of Directors, “For many people, moving that memorial is like digging up a gravesite.” It’s hard not to agree with this sentiment when one thinks of the families who leave flowers for loved ones lost at sea. To them this is indeed a sacred site.

While I have no lost loved one’s name on the memorial, I go there to feel connected to Juneau’s history and culture; to be reminded of our tenuous tie to the bounty of the sea. Nestled next to a fish processer and above the only ramp in town where a fishing boat might tie up, this is the only downtown place for making a connection to our third largest employer. It is a vestige of culture and identity in a Disneyland maze of Tanzanite and T-shirts. And now, that too must go to make way for larger ships?

Instead of asking the memorial’s board to look at alternative sites, shouldn’t we be asking the port designers to go back to the drawing board and find a way to accommodate the annual Blessing of The Fleet? Could a temporary walkway be constructed to allow participating residents to get to the edge of the water for the blessing? Could the dolphins be placed in such a way that a fishing boat could motor in close for one day? To ensure port security could we not schedule any cruise ships on the day of the blessing? I don’t know if these questions have been fully vetted but they should be before we consider moving the Fishermen’s Memorial.

The mere notion of just considering a new a location to accommodate more and more of the cruise ship industry begs the question, what’s next? Is more necessarily better for us, better for our one million plus visitors? I know from directly interacting with many of our visitors that the crowded South Franklin zoo of jewelry stores and buses diminishes their enjoyment. Not only does our quality of local identity suffer but so does the quality of their once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Where is the carrying capacity of maximum enjoyment and community character? This is not a treasonous question to ask. If we take the time figure out the right number of “use days” for the whales in Glacier Bay National Park we should be able to figure out the right amount for a community desirous of both economic growth and community character.

While Sitka has not set limits on cruise ship stops, they have engaged in a Visitor Industry Plan aimed at finding that balance. To guide them, the city has adopted these overarching principles:

• No community remains special by accident.

• Sitka’s unique character must be maintained.

• Sitka wants to be a high value, moderate volume visitor destination.

• Sitka is characterized by locally owned and operated businesses.

• The Visitor Industry will continue to be an important component of a diverse and healthy economy in Sitka.

• The Visitor Industry will optimize its benefits to the residents of Sitka.

• Partnerships are critical for implementing this plan and making unified decisions regarding the Visitor Industry.

• Dialogue and decisions about the Visitor Industry that have community impacts should include the appropriate people and be based on good information.

Once I read the first principle — no community remains special by accident — I was able to understand what was bothering me so much about the whole question of moving the Fishermen’s Memorial. It takes planning and commitment to hold on to what is special about our community. We certainly seem capable of planning for larger ships, but we are not showing the same level of willingness to protect what makes us special. I consider having a Fishermen’s Memorial in the only remaining commercial fishing vestige of downtown to be something special. We can’t let our specialness slip idly by ... by accident.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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