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Small cruise ship companies operating in Alaska waters are looking for an exemption from the state's wastewater pollution law, saying expensive upgrades could put them out of business.
Cruise ship pollution legislation passed in 2001 established guidelines for wastewater disposal from large and small cruise ships to meet by January 2004.
Most large cruise ships have either installed advanced wastewater treatment systems or stopped dumping within Alaska waters, according to a study by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
But small cruise ship companies say the technology needed to properly clean their ships' wastewater would cost millions of dollars.
"What it would mean is that we would be out of business," said Capt. Michael Jones of the Alaska Small Cruise Vessel Association.
Jones said some ships would have to be cut in half and lengthened in order to accommodate the new wastewater cleaning systems.
"We don't know that it's possible that the Coast Guard would allow it and have the ship remain in the classification that it's in now," he said. "And that requires more crew, higher licenses and other issues."
Three small American cruise ship companies - Cruise West, Lindblad Expeditions, and New World Ship Management - operate 10 cruise ships in Alaska waters.
The ships, which carry 50 to 250 passengers, contribute about 3 percent of the wastewater discharged in Alaska waters, according to DEC.
House Bill 522, introduced by the House State Affairs committee, would establish a system of "best management practices" for vessels that currently operate in Alaska waters. The requirements would be set by the Department of Environmental Conservation and likely would require ships to discharge while in motion to dilute the wastewater.
The ships also would have to develop a new plan every three years to improve their wastewater discharge practices, which would be approved by DEC.
New small cruise ships operating in Alaska would have to conform to the 2001 law and the exemption for old ships would end in 2016.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, a main architect of the 2001 cruise ship legislation, said the technology for cruise ships to clean wastewater has not developed fast enough for small cruise ships to come into compliance.
"We thought that the larger ships would develop the technology so that at this point it could be retrofitted down to a small enough size that it would be easy for the small ships to come into compliance," she said.
Kerttula said that ultimately all ships should comply with environmental laws.
"At some point all ships - big, small, little, anything - should have great technology and shouldn't be dumping," she said.
HB 522 has one referral to the House Resources committee and then goes to the full House for consideration.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.