JUNEAU (AP) -- The National Park Service is recommending that the number of cruise ships allowed to visit Glacier Bay National Park each year stay at current levels, with the chance of increasing in the future.
The draft environmental impact statement says the park service would stick with 139 cruise ship visits into Glacier Bay from June to August of each year, with the possibility of increasing to 184 a year.
The statement offers five options for motorized vessel traffic in the 3.3 million-acre park north of Juneau.
The study covers vessel limits for cruise ships, tour vessels, charter boats and private vessels. Some alternatives include new speed limits and separate quotas for Glacier Bay and Dundas Bay in the park.
The agency's preferred alternative would keep all vessel numbers at current levels, with possible increases in cruise ship visits.
Glacier Bay National Park Superintendent Tomie Lee said future increases in cruise ship numbers would be gradual and depend on environmental studies and monitoring.
The park service measures cruise ship air emissions and checks vessel logs, Lee said. The agency also is conducting ongoing research on seals and humpback whales, she said.
Lee said she expects cruise ships will be allowed 139 visits this summer, as in the past.
The park service increased the number of cruise ships allowed into Glacier Bay from 107 to 139 in 1997. In response, the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit, arguing a full-scale environmental study was needed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed in 2001, returning cruise ship traffic to pre-1996 levels. Congress then froze cruise ship visits at 139 until the detailed study was finished.
Jim Stratton, Alaska regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the group will be taking a close look at how the study deals with all types of boats.
Nearly 383,000 people traveled through Glacier Bay in 2001. About 85 percent of park visitors are cruise ship passengers, according to the park service.
Comments on the draft study will be accepted through May 14 and public hearings are planned in mid-April in Anchorage, Juneau, Hoonah, Gustavus, Pelican, Elfin Cove and Seattle. A final decision is expected in January.
On the Net: www.nps.gov/glba/.
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