A federal judge has ordered the National Park Service to reduce cruise-ship sailings immediately in Glacier Bay National Park, one of Alaska's top tourist destinations. The ruling will affect thousands of tourists who have booked cruise trips through Alaska's glacier-filled Inside Passage. Glacier Bay, about 60 miles (100 km) west of the capital, Juneau, at the north of the Inside Passage, is considered a highlight of those trips.
U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton announced his decision at the end of a hearing on Friday, August 3, and formalized it with a written ruling on Monday, August 6.
The decision followed a ruling in February by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found the Park Service had erred when it responded to industry appeals by allowing a 30 percent increase in summer cruise-ship traffic
in Glacier Bay without doing a full study of the environmental impact the additional ships would have.
The National Parks Conservation Association sued the Park Service over the issue in 1997, the year that cruise ship visits to Glacier Bay were allowed to rise to 139 for the three summer months from the previous cap of 107. Singleton said summer cruise traffic in Glacier Bay must return immediately to the 1996 level.
Chip Dennerlein, head of the association's Alaska office, said Singleton's decision was appropriate because many of the cruise lines visiting Glacier Bay had amassed a record of pollution violations and other bad behavior.
"Why in the world would we trust this industry?" Dennerlein said. "It's going to take a court saying, 'You're not going to be able to bring your boats here' to get their attention."
The ruling will mean a reduction in the number of large ships visiting the park during the rest of the month of August, but the exact number that will be cut was not immediately clear, said John Quinley, Alaska spokesman for the National Park Service.
Between nine and 32 cruise-trip visits could be cut, depending on whether the lines are allowed to make only 107 trips for the summer or whether they are forced simply to reduce their rate of visits for the rest of the month.
"It's clear that there's a reduction that's going to happen this year. We're just not sure what it's going to be," he said. The ruling also affected next year's traffic in Glacier Bay, holding it at the 107-trip limit that was in effect previously, Quinley said.
Congress may override the courts to boost next year's cap, because Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, has sponsored a rider to the Interior Department appropriations bill that
would keep peak-season cruise-ship sailings in Glacier Bay at 139 while the Park Service completes its environmental impact statement.
Several major cruise lines offer trips to the bay, including Carnival Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises Inc., Holland America Line
-Westours Inc., Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises Inc. and World Explorer, according to the National Park Service Web site. At least one of the lines had contingency plans for its vessels to bypass Glacier Bay for other scenic destinations for the rest of the month of August.
"We would try to find an alternative for Glacier Bay that would be another glacier-viewing experience," said Tom Dow, vice president of public affairs for Princess Cruises and Tours. For Princess, the Glacier Bay sailing took up just one day in a seven-day voyage, he noted. - (Reuters)