SOME cruises may have to bypass Alaska's Glacier Bay due to judge's ruling

Sunday, August 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ANCHORAGE (AP) _ Thousands of cruise ship passengers who booked vacations to Glacier Bay National Park this summer may have to bypass the bay or reschedule their trips because of a federal judge's order that fewer ships visit.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton on Friday could affect up to 32 of the 42 cruise ships still scheduled to visit the popular Southeast Alaska destination this season. Each ship carries about 1,500 passengers.

``We know there's going to be some effect. We don't know how much of an effect there is going to be,'' said National Park Service spokesman John Quinley. He said as few as 10 or as many as 32 ships could be banned from the bay this year.

John Hansen, executive director of the NorthWest CruiseShip Association, said he wanted to know more about the judge's decision before commenting.

Glacier Bay National Park is a popular destination for Alaska cruise ships because of its majestic fjords and glaciers. About 350,000 cruise passengers visit the park each year, Quinley said, most touring the scenic waters for a half day before steaming on.

Friday's injunction stems from a 1997 lawsuit brought by the National Parks Conservation Association, which argued that the Park Service should have done a full-scale environmental review before increasing the number of cruise ships allowed into Glacier Bay.

The group says increased big-vessel traffic in the bay heightens the risk of spills and air pollution, and of possible collisions and other harm to endangered humpback whales. A whale was recently found dead from head injuries near the entrance to the park, and park officials suspect a ship ran into it.

Until 1996, the number of cruise ships was limited to 107 during the peak months of June, July and August. In 1997, park managers boosted the limit to 139 ships. The Park Service based that decision on an environmental assessment, not a more rigorous environmental impact statement.

In February, a federal appeals court ruled that the 1997 decision violated the law and ordered the Park Service to lower the number of ships to 107 until it completed the impact statement. The court left it to Singleton to decide when the reduction should be made.