The Sitka Tourism Task Force will consider Sitka’s capacity for cruise tourism, but it will have other challenges in the coming year: Land use and development, tourism best practices, and deciding if it should disband and reforganize as a permanent Tourism Commission. (Pictured: the Serenade of the Seas at the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal in 2021, KCAW Tash Kimmell)

Sitka has created a task force to make recommendations on the long-term impact of increased tourism in the community.

The Tourism Task Force will face many challenges in the coming year. The first, which was tackled by the Sitka Assembly, was deciding whom to put on the panel, in order to represent the widest-possible interests in the community.

Note: The first meeting of the Sitka Tourism Task Force will be a joint work session with the Sitka Assembly, 6 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in Harrigan Centennial Hall.

It’s not often that municipal commissions have more applicants than seats in Sitka, but that was the case with the Tourism Task Force, which had 16 residents apply for nine seats.

Several seats are weighted toward cruise industry interests, and there wasn’t any debate over filling the Tribal, Cruise Terminal, and Tours Attractions seats. A couple of other seats, representing the Port and Harbors Commission and Sitka’s Sustainability Commissission, only had one applicant each.

The General Business Seat, however, was more contested. Three applicants wanted the slot, including Cambria Holmes, who owns Campfire Kitchen. Holmes said her views on cruise tourism were shaped by living in Haines, and seeing what was going on in nearby Skagway.

“I would look over there and want to cry because everything’s owned by the cruise ships,” said Holmes. “It was just polar opposites. And I felt like when I moved to Sitka, it had a really nice balance to it. And I want to find a good balance where Sitka benefits, money can come and it can stay, and we can not be destroyed by turning into Skagway part two.”

Holmes won an appointment to the task force.

Showing up and speaking did not guarantee a spot. Shirley Robards was one of two applicants for the Downtown Business Corridor seat. Her business, Stereo North, is celebrating its 40th anniversary soon. Robards discussed her history, and her good relationship with other downtown businesses, but the assembly opted instead to appoint Jim Michener, the co-owner of Alaska Pure Sea Salt Company.

The most highly-contested seats were for Community-at-Large, which had six applicants for two positions.

During public testimony, former assembly member Richard Wein suggested that the commission needed better balancing, and would benefit from more at-large members.

“If I were you, there are six on there, I would nominate them all and let them all sit and give their opinions,” said Wein.

Wein’s view was seconded by Eric Jordan, a long-time outspoken community advocate in Sitka.

The assembly, however, didn’t have the freedom to amend the ordinance creating the tourism task force. Instead, they chose applicants with broad constituencies.

Former assembly member, and 40-year resident Phyllis Hackett was picked for the eighth seat.

“I also have a really deep sense of the importance of Sitka as a community and a lifestyle here for the residents,” said Hackett. “And I know that the summer is very important to the residents that live here year round. And I really believe we need to find a good balance. I’ve watched Juneau, and I’ve watched Ketchikan, I’ve watched Skagway, I’ve watched all these communities over the years go through their changes with tourism, and I’m concerned – I’m concerned for Sitka.”

The ninth seat went to Rich McClear, a former employee of KCAW and current volunteer at the station, who has both a long record of community service, as well as a passion for cruising fostered by his grandfather, who came to America working as a ship’s steward.

McClear has become an avid world traveler in retirement, and is a student of the cruise industry.

“And recently I’ve been following what other communities are doing to try and look at the tourism situation,” McClear said. “I’ve looked at the memorandums of understanding that Bar Harbor, Maine, and Juneau have come up with. I’ve looked at the ordinances that Bar Harbor and Portland and Key West have tried to pass. I’ve looked at some of the controversies in Cobh, Ireland and Bora Bora. All these communities are facing the same issue: How do we preserve the essential nature of our community while having business flourish?”

The Sitka Tourism Task Force will have a year to do its work, in five major areas ranging from determining an appropriate level of tourism in the community to land use regulations. Its final task will be to determine whether – a year from now – it should be dissolved, and replaced by a permanent Sitka Tourism Commission.