Monday, July 15, 2024

Yorktown Citizens Continue Fight Against Princess Cruises

Concerned citizens listen to a presentation by Preserve Yorktown on Jan. 14 at Tabb Library. (Christopher Six/WYDaily)

YORKTOWN — Nearly a year on from the official announcement, concerned citizens are continuing efforts to block Princess Cruises from making Yorktown a port of call this summer.

A recent survey conducted by a group called Concerned Citizens of York County found 392 citizens opposed to Princess Cruises coming to town, while 121 citizens support the pilot program. 33 remain undecided and nine said they didn’t care either way.

At a meeting on Jan. 14 held at the Tabb Library, Preserve Yorktown, a group organized in opposition to the plan, talked with community members about the potential impacts that cruise ships will bring to the area. A petition in circulation has more than 7,000 signatures.

The group is concerned about the disruption the port visits will cause to the small, historic community and the large numbers of visitors who may disembark. It is also concerned about the impact on the environment, the historical ramifications, and a perceived lack of transparency from the York County Board of Supervisors.

Preserve Yorktown stresses it is not opposed to tourism, it is more a matter of scale.

“It’s finding the right balance in terms of tourism, and we think that there are viable options for tourism in York County without damaging our culture, degrading the environment, and quite frankly, opening a Pandora’s box,” explained Robert Hodson, a member of the group.

“But this is not just the pilot for a couple of ships. This is a launch of a whole new market for the cruise industry,” he added.

Holland America recently made waves when reports in the media surfaced that it had added Yorktown as a port call beginning in 2025. The cruise line said it had since canceled the stops, citing the concerns of residents.

The perception of a lack of transparency was enough to make outgoing York County Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Zaremba question the process at a December work session.

“We’re working for the citizens. To have something as important, as major as a decision relative to cruise lines — and for the last couple of meetings, we’ve heard a helluva lot of comments by the citizens of the county that said, ‘We don’t want it, we don’t want it!’ — and we never had an open discussion as to whether or not we should approve the cruise lines coming into Yorktown or not,” Zaremba said.

With two new members on the board, opponents to the plan are hoping it will be more receptive to their concerns. On Friday, it was announced a Princess Cruises public forum would be held Feb. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the York High School auditorium.

A number of lawn signs were available for concerned citizens to take home from the Jan. 14 meeting. (Christopher Six/WYDaily)

During the Jan. 14 Preserve Yorktown meeting, several speakers made presentations, and a primary concern was pollution. Jacque Van Montfrans, a former William & Mary professor of Marine Science, made note of information that emerged in a 2016 plea deal, where Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges stemming from its deliberate pollution of the seas and intentional acts to cover it up.

According to the Department of Justice. Princess was on the hook for the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution after pleading guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste from one of its cruise ships.

“There’s a lot of information that is not known. The Princess cruise lines folks say, ‘We made a mistake. And we’ve changed our attitude, and changed our approach to these things.’ And they have made some improvements. The problem is that there is no oversight on these ships,” he explained.

He also cautioned that fuel used by Princess ships was a lower grade than that used by naval vessels, requiring scrubbing of exhaust fuels, and raised concern about the impact it would have on the area’s delicate ecosystem, and in particular, local oysters.

Hodson has done research and spoken with other cities and municipalities that have become cruise ship ports of call across the U.S., and showed a sneak peek of a documentary highlighting issues that Sitka, Alaska is facing after becoming a cruise port. Notable was the fact that Sika went from a relatively small town to one of over 500,000 people when the cruise ships arrived, he said.

“It’s important to know what happened there, is that the locale said they didn’t want it. They voted down the pier. And basically, the tour industry sidestepped them and found a local boatyard that they basically made a deal with,” he said.

Currently, Preserve Yorktown has created a list of actions that concerned citizens can take to spread the word about their opposition.

The group’s Thomas Des Lauriers urged those in York County opposed to the plan to get involved in the education campaigns that Preserve Yorktown is using. Projects include a postcard campaign, a petition, urging citizens to speak at Board of Supervisor meetings, and more.

“The lack of transparency, for us knowing what’s going on, is my biggest concern. We don’t know anything. They won’t speak up and tell us anything. All this being kind of done behind our backs,” he said.

For more information on Preserve Yorktown’s efforts, visit preserveyorktown.org.

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