Tourists walk onto the shoulder of the bridge at Herring Cove.
Tourists walk onto the shoulder of the bridge at Herring Cove. (KRBD file photo)

Lack of enforcement powers prompted the Ketchikan Gateway Borough to move toward scrapping its Herring Cove Tourism Management Program, hire “ambassadors” for this summer, and move forward with a neighborhood planning effort.

The borough assembly held a public hearing and vote on the issue during its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Herring Cove program started in 2014 to address safety concerns. Tour companies take busloads of summer cruise passengers to Herring Cove in hopes of seeing bears, eagles and other wildlife. Complaints included buses stopping traffic, and groups of tourists walking or standing in the middle of South Tongass Highway near or on the narrow bridge that provides the best views.

The road is a two-lane state highway. In that section, there are no designated areas for pedestrians. Parking also is a concern. Not only tour buses, but taxis and other smaller vehicles conducting tours go to the cove throughout summer, parking wherever they can – including on private property.

The 2014 program required permits for tour companies taking visitors to Herring Cove, and provided compliance officers to keep an eye on parking, and discourage visitors from walking into traffic.

According to the borough, the program’s success has been limited. The borough has no public safety powers, and has no jurisdiction over the road or the private property that involves most of the parking controversies.

Herring Cove off South Tongass Highway is a popular destination for wildlife viewing. (KRBD file photo)

But, during a public hearing on Tuesday, the borough assembly heard from some South End residents who say the program has been successful.

Denise Jausoro told the assembly that it’s made a huge difference in her daily commute to the city.

“It completely got rid of buses stopping on the bridge, of kids running around in danger of getting hit, of tour operators getting all of their people off the bus, standing on the bridge and taking group photos,” she said.

Jausoro said other area residents she’s talked with feel the same way. She said if the neighborhood plan is as successful, she will support that.

Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas told the assembly Tuesday that while there no longer would be compliance officers at Herring Cove, the ambassadors would still promote safety.

“So, instead of trying to document things and focus on the enforcement side of things, we’re not going to be focused on that as much as trying to ensure that traffic continues to move, that folks are safe,” she said.

Assembly Member Judith McQuerry said she was surprised to hear from residents that they thought the program has worked. She said she hadn’t heard that from anyone before.

“I’m planning to vote for this ordinance and the reason being that I think we have been giving people a false promise,” she said. “We’ve been telling them that we would be able to enforce things in Herring Cove that, in fact, we can’t.”

The ordinance repeals the Herring Cove Tourism Management Program. The assembly unanimously approved that ordinance on Tuesday, but there will be another public hearing and vote on the issue.

The ordinance will come back to the assembly for its March 11 meeting.