Glacier Bay cruises axed
Cutback: Court order will likely ban nine ships scheduled to enter the national park.
By Paula Dobbyn
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: August 7, 2001)
In response to a federal court order, the National Park Service will likely prohibit nine cruise ships from entering Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast this summer, an agency spokesman said.
The cutback is less drastic than the barring of 32 ships starting this week that some people had anticipated after Friday's decision by District Judge James K. Singleton. But it still means 13,500 passengers won't get to see the national park.
Glacier Bay's famed tidewater glaciers, endangered humpback whales, puffins and other snapshot-worthy attractions make it the highlight of most Alaska cruises and one of the most visited places in the state each summer.
Singleton's order caught many people in the tourism industry off-guard because they expected the cuts to begin next year, not amid the current season.
Chip Dennerlein, Alaska head of the National Parks Conservation Association, which originated the lawsuit against the Park Service, said that the ruling has generated intense interest and that he was interviewed by The Washington Post, the British Broadcasting Corp., and other major media over the weekend.
"I was interviewed about it live from London last night," Dennerlein said Monday.
Though the Park Service hasn't finalized the cutback, the agency expects to submit it for Singleton's approval today or early Wednesday, said spokesman John Quinley. On Friday, the judge told the Park Service to slash the number of cruise ships allowed into Glacier Bay immediately in response to a federal appeals court ruling. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Park Service erred in allowing a 72 percent increase in cruise ship entries in 1997 without having done a major environment review. While the court ordered ship visits cut, it left it to Singleton to implement the order.
Some lingering confusion exists as to whether ship numbers should be cut from the current 139 to 107, the old limit, or whether the Park Service can prorate the reduction over the remainder of the season. Under the first scenario, no more ships could enter the park after Wednesday because that's when the season's 107th cruise will visit the park, said Tom Dow, a Seattle-based executive for Princess Cruises. That would mean 32 canceled voyages. Under the second scenario, the ship reduction would be prorated and only nine or 10 ships would be barred from Glacier Bay.
Either way, lots of tourists who expected to see Glacier Bay won't. Neither Princess nor Holland America, the companies with the largest number of ship entries, plans to offer refunds, company officials said. Instead, they will divert ships to other glacier-laden spots in Southeast, such as Tracy Arm south of Juneau and the Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat.
"It's disruptive to people, it's disruptive to the company," said Al Parrish, Holland America's vice president in Anchorage. However, everything that can be done will be to ensure that passengers have a great experience, including upfront views of glaciers, he said.
Meanwhile, hope burns for a legislative fix. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, penned an amendment this summer to the Senate-passed Interior Department appropriation bill that would keep ship entries at 139.
If it's approved by the House in September, this might be an issue that came and went in August 2001, Dow said.
Dennerlein's group and other environmentalists are working to see that it's not. Many senators didn't realize that a federal appeals court had unanimously ordered the ship reduction when they approved Stevens' language. Since then, environmentalists have informed them and several have vowed to kill the rider when it gets to a conference committee with the House, Dennerlein said.
"If the cruise industry pushes this, they will have a much blacker eye nationally," Dennerlein said. "These people are going to have to learn sometime."
Reporter Paula Dobbyn can be reached at email@example.com