Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Yorktown Cruise Ship Plan Sparks Concern

Alyssa Adams runs through information the group has gathered about the plan and the cruise industry. (Christopher Six/WYDaily)

YORKTOWN — A group of citizens concerned about plans for two Princess Cruises ships to make a series of day-long stops in Yorktown in 2024 met for the third time Monday, July 10 at the Yorktown Library.

About 40 were in attendance at the meeting to raise concerns, plan a response to York County’s Board of Supervisors and to organize their position in advance of a planned August presentation by Princess Cruises.

The group of citizens, operating under the moniker Preserve Yorktown, is concerned about the disruption the port visits will cause to the small, historic community as large numbers of visitors disembark. It is also concerned about the impact on the environment and the historical ramifications, as well as a perceived lack of transparency from the York County Board of Supervisors.

“This group is not anti-business. We are a concerned group of people who got together to share information, because not a lot of information has been forthcoming from York County, and this is a big deal,” organizer Alyssa Adams explained to open the meeting.

The cruise line announced a pilot program in February of custom-curated itineraries slated for summer 2024 that includes a port stop in Yorktown and the Historic Triangle.

Plans call for three visits by the 2,200-passenger Island Princess and two by the 3,080-passenger Emerald Princess. The ships would anchor in the river and tender boats would shuttle passengers to floating docks near the Watermen’s Museum.

In February, Stephen Roane Jr., District 4 Supervisor, shared some key aspects of the deal in the wake of the announcement:

  • 2024 will be a pilot program for the cruise line — the ship will anchor in the river, not at existing piers
  • Yorktown will be a port-of-call, it will not be a departure port for passengers to initially board the ship
  • Passengers will leave/return to the ship via tenders that will ferry them from the ship to the piers
  • Ships will be in port mostly during the weekdays
  • Day visits are planned, arriving around morning breakfast hours and departing early evening
  • The anchor location for the pilot program is subject to a number of factors, including U.S. Navy and Coast Guard reviews — anchorage north of the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge is currently being targeted
  • Ships will not transfer of supplies or discharge trash and sewage
  • Projections show that during most visits, approximately a third of the passengers will remain on the ship, a third will visit the Yorktown waterfront and the remaining third will plan on day excursions to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown

“Princess is already well known for our unique itineraries that appeal to our guests who gravitate toward interesting historical and cultural opportunities and Yorktown is perfectly in tune with that philosophy, offering not only a glimpse at the Revolutionary War but also dining, shopping and activity options with wide-ranging appeal. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said John Padgett, president of Princess Cruises and a Virginia native, at the time of the announcement.

The cruise line noted in its original announcement it would work with local tour operators to showcase the region.

“This, I believe, is a room of like-minded individuals who think that the scale of the ship is too large for the small Yorktown waterfront,” Adams said. “It’s not a meeting to debate about the pros and cons of having a cruise line come. It’s more about being concerned about if it’s appropriate, from a historical perspective, from an environmental perspective, and from the scale perspective.”

Adams noted in her presentation that increasing the number of port visits, as well as construction of a new pier at the Watermen’s Museum, were both on the table in the future if the pilot program proved successful. At the same time, she cited reports that questioned the economic impact of the cruise industry to the destinations it visits.

She also highlighted that Princess had pleaded guilty to environmental infractions in 2016 and 2022, stressing that unlike the airline industry, no Federal agency regulates the safety of the cruise industry. She noted other municipalities, including Venice and Key West, had moved to ban large cruise ships from their waters for many of the same concerns the group has about Yorktown.

John Broadwater speaks about the historic shipwrecks under the York River. (Christopher Six/WYDaily)

Several speakers voiced their environmental, historical and infrastructure concerns, and underwater expert John Broadwater spoke of the British shipwrecks located on the river bottom that saw the area placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think this cruise ship is character-altering,” said Beverly Krams, noting that when coupled with other changes along the waterfront “The cumulative effects of these proposals create a whole new Yorktown waterfront. I think that gives new meaning to character-altering.”

The group aims to forward its questions to the county prior to its next meeting and the planned Princess information presentation in August. It also identified a need to educate the public.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the implications of these big cruise ships coming in,” Adams said. “Ask somebody on the street they just think, ‘oh, wow, that’d be so cool.’ So, I think we need to do some outreach.”

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