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)

A program to enforce rules for organized tours in the Herring Cove area was repealed on Monday by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.

Borough staff and assembly members cited the lack of enforcement powers, which they say rendered the 2014 Herring Cove Tourism Management Program ineffective. However, several members of the public asked the assembly to keep the program in place.

Jon Schleiff owns a private security business. He said the borough’s plan to pull the ordinance and hire “ambassadors” to encourage safety means those ambassadors will have no teeth to back them up.

The repealed program required permits for tour operators bringing visitors to Herring Cove. If operators violated rules, the borough could cancel the permits. However, the borough doesn’t own the roadway or the land surrounding the popular destination.

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.

With the program repealed, the borough plans to request proposals from businesses interested in running the ambassador program. Schleiff said he was interested. But:

“If you pull that teeth out of there, then you have somebody that’s absolutely going to be verbally abused by drivers all day long,” he said. “I as a business owner, on that RFP, would never put any of my employees out there to take that.”

Mike Jurczak is a resident of the Herring Cove area. He, too, asked the assembly to maintain the program, which he said has helped to keep order.

“Things have gotten better. And I want them to get better the next few years, too,” he said. “I’m afraid what you guys are doing in washed down compared to what we had. I don’t want one ounce less service than we already have. I want more. I want a happy Herring Cove.”

Tour guide Mary Stephenson also asked that the program stay in place. She said permits that the borough issued were legal contracts that would stand up in court, and that provided the authority.

But, the assembly disagreed. Members discussed the possibility of purchasing property in Herring Cove, which could be developed for parking and restrooms. If the borough owns and operates land and services, it would have more authority to enforce rules.

Assembly Member Felix Wong said that’s something that needs to be explored. In the meantime, the existing program’s perceived teeth are not sharp.

“If we attempt to so-called bite, it will bite back really hard,” he said. “As it stands, there are aspects of what we have going on that’s working. I’d like to assure that it’s not our goal to totally dismantle it.”

The borough’s plan is for the ambassadors to keep an eye on visitors and tour operators, and remind everyone about safety.

The assembly voted unanimously to repeal the program. The borough is working on developing a neighborhood plan for Herring Cove.