Governor blasts plan for Glacier Bay traffic

Quota for boats allowed into the bay next year will be the same as in 2005

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The number of boats allowed to enter Glacier Bay National Park next year will remain the same while more studies are done to determine the effects of the cruise ships on the park's wildlife.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski blasted Monday's announcement by the National Park Service. The governor, who has been wrestling with the federal government over control of Glacier Bay's waters, wants to bring more cruise ships into to the state's No. 2 tourist destination.

Glacier Bay, the 3.3-million-acre roadless Southeast Alaska park that is popular for its breaching whales and dramatic scenery, drew 353,680 visitors last year. Just about all came by boat.

Marcia Blaszak, National Park Service regional director for Alaska, said she shares Murkowski's goal of increasing the number of visitors to the area, but that it must be done responsibly and using the best science available.

That doesn't mean the number of tourists to Glacier Bay won't increase, Blaszak said. Of the 139 boats that entered Glacier Bay this year, 12 smaller vessels will be replaced by cruise ships next year. That will mean a 16 percent increase in passengers above 2005.

Then in 2007, 14 new boats will be allowed into Glacier Bay, for a total of 153 boats for the tourist season. Over the next two years, the number of tourists to Glacier Bay could jump 23 percent, Blaszak said.

Murkowski said that's not enough, and not soon enough. He wants two a day, or 184 boats for the entire season, plus state-run ferries allowed to cruise the bay.

"I know he's disappointed in not seeing us bump it to 184 cruise ships immediately, but our deliberative process never laid that out as a strategy," Blaszak said.

Murkowski said he will take the matter to Interior Secretary Gail Norton when he meets with her next month and ask her to overturn the decision.

"They've been studying it for 20 years and I'm sick of waiting," Murkowski said. "They study and study and study and study and come up with gibberish that (results in) more studies."

The argument between the state and federal government over Glacier Bay has crescendoed this year. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Alaska's claims that the state owns the park's waters. Also this summer, a state ferry that started a new run to Glacier Bay was required to use a float instead of the dock at Bartlett Cove, which Murkowski says was inadequate. And none of the state's ferries are permitted to cruise the bay, he said.

"I'd hate to be precluded access in our state to our own bodies of water," he said.

The decision was announced Monday after the Glacier Bay Science Advisory Board handed over the studies and research it conducted over the past year to the Park Service. In the coming year, the advisory board will collect new and additional data that the Park Service will use to implement a management plan.

Jim Stratton, Alaska regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said he was pleased there won't be an increase in boat traffic in 2006, but wondered why the Park Service would announce a 14-boat increase for 2007 before the studies are completed. He said the science advisory board should be allowed the time it needs before a traffic increase is proposed.

If the whales, sea lions, seals and other resources can be protected, the association will have no objection in an increase in the number of cruise ships, he said.

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