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Wastewater legislation moves to Senate floor

Posted: February 8, 2013 - 2:56pm

In less than half an hour of deliberation, the Senate Finance Committee moved cruise ship wastewater legislation out of committee. Now in the Senate Rules Committee, the legislation is next headed for a full vote of the Senate — a final step before the governor signs it into law.

House Bill 80 could reach the Senate floor during the senate’s next scheduled meeting Monday at 11 a.m.

Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 80 were introduced at the request of Gov. Sean Parnell. The bills moved rapidly through the Legislature in an attempt to get the law passed in February. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation must issue the cruise industry new wastewater permits when the current permits expire in April. Setting the new law in Feb. could give the DEC enough time to write permits to reflect the changes in the legislation by the time the first cruise ship visits Alaska in April.

House Bill 80 was advanced from Senate Finance Committee without opposition.

If passed, the bill would sunset an advisory panel convened to report on wastewater discharge science and treatment technology. The Science Advisory Panel released a preliminary report late in 2012.

The bills also do away with a 2006 cruise ship initiative criteria that required treated black water and grey water discharges to meet Alaska water quality standards “at the point of discharge” — where the effluent leaves the ship and enters the marine ecosystem.

In its preliminary report the advisory panel found that current water treatment systems on cruise ships cannot meet water quality criteria at the point of discharge for ammonia, copper, zinc and nickel — and no technology on the horizon can bring water quality up to snuff by 2015. However, current technology could meet these standards given a mixing zone where the discharge can dilute. ADEC permits mixing zones with other dischargers such as municipal sewage systems.

During the Senate Finance Committee hearing Friday morning, Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Anchorage, said she had heard from constituents that they fear the legislation lowers water quality standards and “allows sewage to be dumped,” Fairclough said.

During public testimony on Thursday morning more than 20 people testified that they opposed passage of the legislation.

However, she said, the information from the cruise ship wastewater Science Advisory Panel does not reflect those concerns. She asked DEC Director Division of Water Lynn Kent if these fears are founded.

“Passage of HB 80 is not going to allow cruise ships to do anything less than they are already doing,” Kent said. “And they already treat at a very high level.”

In an interview after the hearing Friday morning, Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley said the bill process so far has been thorough.

"It is a complicated issue that is difficult to understand," Binkley said. "It is easy for critics to be able to raise fear among the general public."

Binkley praised the efforts of DEC in protecting the quality of Alaska's waters. Binkley said HB 80 allows DEC to do its job, "To make certain that it's done for this industry the way they do it for all industries and dischargers.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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