Tourist season has definitely started in Ketchikan, and the city council heard from many local tour vendors and business owners during its regular meeting Thursday.

Much of public comment was taken by independent tour operators who sell tours directly to visitors through the city-run dock vendor program. That item was on the agenda for discussion and possible amendments.

The city earlier had decided to prohibit standalone sandwich-board signs, and hand-held signs that tour vendors have used in hopes of attracting customers.

Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon explained the complexities of managing people in the business of selling tours. He said one of the rules this past year was that signs had to be attached to the sales booth, but the vendors are always looking for loopholes.

Tour operators hold signs while cruise passengers disembark from the Eurodam. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

“They would attach them, but they would attach them just to the corner of the booth. Or somebody would take a sign and stick it five feet above the booth,” he said. “Same thing with the hand signs: One year, somebody put their pamphlet on the back of their clipboard. Then a couple years later, somebody made a little sign. Then last year, the year before, somebody started carrying a little 2-by-3-foot sign. Then last year, some of these guys had 3-by-4 signs, both people outside the booth had, somebody inside the booth would have one, somebody leaning out the back door of the booth would have a sign. So we said no. No hand signs.”

During a recent meeting with tour vendors, Corporon said, they all agreed to allow hand signs. But they can be no larger than 9-by-12 inches, and only two salespeople outside the booth can hold them. Larger signs must be not only attached to the sales booth, but flush to the outside wall.

Those changes were approved by the council.

In another tourist-related matter, Michelle Masden of Island Wings spoke about her concerns over a planned expansion of the Berth 4 cruise dock. Her business is nearby. The planned expansion would allow new mega-cruise ships to dock at Berth 4.

Masden said cruise traffic in that area can degrade pilings that support her business and others, and bigger ships will make it worse. Masden also questioned the use of public funds to accomplish any expansion work on Berth 4, which is privately owned. The city has a 30-year lease with Ketchikan Dock Company for that space.

“A vote to expand Berth 4 is a vote to invest money into private enterprise instead of city-owned property,” she said. “A vote to renegotiate the lease with Ketchikan Dock Company is a vote to keep the City of Ketchikan indentured to the owners of Berth 4 for even longer than they are already, and for more money than they are already. It’s also a vote not to care about what happens to the business and property owners who work and own and live shoreward of Berth 4.”

The council had an executive session to discuss negotiating a lease amendment for Berth 4, with the intention of modifying the berth for larger vessels. The council took no action following that closed-door discussion.

Masden has previously talked to the council about how expansion of Berth 4 also would make it more difficult for her business to maneuver floatplanes to and from its dock.

The city is moving forward with plans to expand Berth 1 for larger ships. Berth 3 already can take some of those mega ships.

The first mega-cruise ship to arrive in Alaska waters will be the Norwegian Bliss. Its first stop in Ketchikan is set for June 4 at Berth 3.