Feds would require ships to report all discharges

Legislature debates how tight state cruise ship regs should be

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001

Cruise ships would have to measure and report every discharge in Alaska waters this summer, under a regulation being developed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

But prospects are unclear for a bill in the Alaska Legislature requiring that information to be provided in a timely way to state regulators.

Under federal legislation passed last year by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the Coast Guard is charged with monitoring the ships' wastewater emissions, which now are barred within a mile of shore or at a speed of less than 6 knots.

Lt. Cmdr. Spencer Wood of Juneau said the plan is to require logbook entries for every discharge event, including time and place, flow rate and volume. The proposed regulation is under review in Washington, D.C.

State Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, wants the state to have complete records of what ships are offloading onto shore, discharging into the water and emitting into the air.

The newest draft of her "right to know" bill requires cruise lines to provide monthly reports on everything they're putting into the marine environment, and possibly to do more sampling and testing of graywater - water from sinks, showers, galleys and laundries - than the new federal law requires. Graywater discharges last year were found to have levels of fecal coliform bacteria even higher than treated sewage.

The bill also calls for the Department of Environmental Conservation to report to the governor in January 2004 on estimated risks to the marine and human environments.

"This is really, really the minimum," Kerttula said. "I don't mean for it to be overly onerous, and I don't think it is."

If there's overlap with information being prepared for the Coast Guard, cruise lines can submit the same reports to the state, she said.

But Vic Kohring, a Wasilla Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he's not sure he'll give Kerttula's bill a hearing.

"I think we need to go in the opposite direction," by repealing regulations on industry generally, Kohring said. "I think we just need to go slow and see if the industry will clean up its act, basically."

Tom Dow, a spokesman for Princess Cruises in Seattle, was concerned by the previous version of Kerttula's bill. "My sense of it is that it would require a whole new level of record-keeping and reporting requirements," Dow said. "The question is how much more useful information really would be provided as a result of that."

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles is expected to introduce his own cruise ship bill, tentatively on March 9.

The bill will be "legally asserting state control over these operations," said Bob King, spokesman for Knowles. Included with that will be a funding mechanism by which the cruise industry will pay for state costs in monitoring and inspection, King said. Cruise executives agreed to that in a meeting with Knowles in November.

Last year, as part of the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, the cruise industry spent $256,000 on monitoring, sampling and lab tests, said John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association. The initiative, a working group that includes regulators and citizens, has a voluntary environmental program separate from the Coast Guard's federal mandate.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.

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