The state House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday to partially exempt small cruise ships from a wastewater dumping law passed in 2001.
Instead the small cruise ships will be required to submit "best management practices" proposals for review and approval by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
"Instead of trying to get completely exempted, this small group of operators has come forward, worked hard with our Department of Environmental Conservation and come up with a very reasonable solution," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, one of the prime architects of the 2001 cruise ship law.
Kerttula said cruise ship laws would not have passed without the help of small cruise ship operators and Alaska marine pilots who testified before the Legislature about wastewater pollution caused by the larger ships.
"Some of them did so at great jeopardy to themselves and their own business," she said.
Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which introduced the bill, said lawmakers assumed that large cruise ships would develop waste-treatment technology that would "trickle down" to the small cruise ships. But with a June compliance deadline approaching, he said, the only technology available to smaller ships is expanding their holding capacities.
The small cruise ships, defined as vessels that carry 50 to 250 passengers, contributed about 3 percent of the wastewater discharged in Alaska waters in 2001, according to DEC. The small cruise ship industry in Alaska is represented by three companies - Cruise West, Linblad Expeditions and New World Ship Management - which operate 10 ships in Alaska.
Bryce Brockway, vice president of operations for Cruise West, a Seattle-based company, said enforcement of the 2001 law on small cruise ships would result in fewer small cruise ships visiting the state.
"I believe we would probably survive, but we wouldn't be in Alaska," Brockway said.
He said the proposed bill would require cruise ship companies to submit best management practices proposals every three years.
Brockway said the proposals would vary from ship to ship but likely would entail discharging wastewater while traveling at least 6 knots. This allows the wastewater to dilute as it enters the ocean.
Brockway said the ships would not dump wastewater while stationary, which means the ships likely would spend less time at port.
A study released by DEC in January said that small cruise ships and state ferries, while stationary, exceed Alaska water quality standards for ammonia, free chlorine, fecal coliform, arsenic, copper, nickel, selenium and zinc.
The report stated: "Due to the high concentration of fecal coliform, the effluent from some small ships may pose a risk to human health in areas where aquatic life is harvested."
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.