Panels Hear Governor's Bill to Water Down Cruise Discharge Standards
ANCHORAGE - Governor Parnell’s bill to loosen wastewater discharge standards for large cruise ships was the subject of public hearings in both the House and Senate Resources Committees.
The bill would allow for so-called mixing zones, areas into which cruise ships could discharge wastewater that doesn't meet clean water standards immediately as it comes out of the pipes.
So far, state-of-the-art treatment systems have not been able to meet standards for four pollutants, notably copper, which is a threat to salmon.
With the expiration in 2015 of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s authority to grant mixing zone relief, Commissioner Larry Hartig said, "that means that water that's being discharged, it has to be drinkable, you have to be able to swim in it, fish would have to be able to live and thrive in it and all the micro-organisms, it's going to meet water quality criteria. That’s how clean it would have to be."
But Karla Hart of Alaska Community Action on Toxics said she thinks the cruise industry should be able to find a way to work within the current regulatory framework, established in part through a citizens ballot initiative in 2006.
"So I think if you take the time to give proper consideration to this, you won't risk the cruise industry for this year, and you will respect all of the voters in Alaska who voted to have this clean water element of the initiative."
Lynn Kent, Hartig’s deputy, said mixing zones can be very effective. “When they're discharging under way, going six knots or more, the dilution of the effluent is so rapid as to be within seconds of coming out of the pipe of meeting the water quality standards."
But a member of a cruise ship advisory council set up by legislation in 2009, Michelle Ridgway, said, “I think it would be very challenging to find locations where we would find it acceptable to discharge contaminants that will not have long-term deleterious effects on our marine ecosystem."
Andy Rogers of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce said it’s an economic issue. "This is a fragile industry, by Alaskan standards. It’s a renewable resource, but it's also a very mobile one. The cruise ships bring tens of thousands of visitors to our port communities and can be re-deployed to venues with reasonable permitting and attainable standards."
Chip Thoma of Responsible Cruising in Alaska, which pushed for a head tax in Juneau as well as the statewide initiative in 2006, said there’s a simple solution.
"My preference and the preference of Responsible Cruising is that large cruise ships discharge into federal waters, not into state waters. You avoid all complications. You don't have to get a state permit."
The House Resources Committee is scheduled to begin amending the bill on Monday.