My Turn: Cutting boat exemption would be bad for Gustavus

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

I am writing this because I am concerned about the National Park Service proposal to end the exemption for vessels based in Bartlett Cove to come and go without a permit.

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There is no logical reason to end the exemption when there were only 1.25 exempt boats a day that used Bartlett Cove last year. The Park Service and researchers meanwhile used six to eight boats a day, according to the agency's data, and have no plans to limit themselves at all. It looks as if the number of exempt boats doubled, it still wouldn't cause much of an impact.

This issue is supposedly about whales. The Park Service's own environmental impact statement shows that whales are little bothered by small vessels. Meanwhile, cruise ships which make 7000 times as much underwater noise, are allowed to increase in numbers. There have been at least two whales killed by cruise ships in Glacier Bay. There has never been a report of a whale injury caused by a small vessel. Whale numbers are on the increase throughout Southeast Alaska, whether they live in areas with restrictive vessel regulations or not.

The only whale harassment in and out of the park that I have witnessed is by whale research vessels that come out of Bartlett Cove and get extremely close to whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait.

It doesn't seem like the local 1.25 boats could make much impact.

At the meeting the other night, Park Service employees told us that permits were unavailable only twice a year for locals. This is untrue. I talked to four people who have tried to get permits in the last two years. They were all turned down at least 50 percent of the time. In one case, a local was turned down three consecutive times before giving up for good. He was told by the Park Service that the permits were all being used by agency employees.

I request that the Park Service continue to allow the exemption, at the very least. The preferable solution would be to open an access corridor for all small vessels so that our neighbors from other communities can get to Bartlett Cove too. This is only a narrow corridor of water about five miles long. We just want to be able to come and go to Icy Strait, not go up Glacier Bay. This is only a small corner of Glacier Bay that is already heavily used by the Park Service, ferries, cruise ships and barges.

We have a right to access the public dock built with taxpayer money. We have a right to enter public lands and to access private lands through public lands. These rights are protected by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

These proposed regulations show a complete lack of compassion for the residents of Gustavus by the Park Service. I am asking the agency to compromise and allow the vessel exemption to continue, or preferably, open a corridor for everyone. This is a very big issue to Gustavus.

• Steve Wilson is a commercial pilot and resident of Gustavus. He owns his own business, Wilson Air.

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