Cruise industry gets reprieve on strict wastewater standards

Five-year extension meant to give industry more time to comply with strict rules

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

In the last days of this session, lawmakers gave cruise lines another five years to comply with strict wastewater standards.

Cruise lines are now regulated under a strict general permit from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation that holds them to Alaska water quality standards at the point of discharge. That's as voters required in a 2006 ballot initiative. DEC gave cruise ships more relaxed interim standards for the first two years, but the cruise lines said their ships' treatment technology couldn't meet the final 2010 standards. At least not yet.

Cruise lines wanted DEC to be free from having to sample the treated sewage and graywater at the end of the pipe, and got Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, to introduce a bill to that effect. But environmental watchdogs fought the so-called mixing zones. Then a compromise emerged: give the cruise lines time to improve, provided they can show they're making a good effort. The amended bill also creates a science panel, with members from both cruise and cruise-watchdog camps, to advise DEC. The department helped write the bill.

The bill passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, voted against the bill in its first run through the House, because it didn't hold the ships to any deadlines. But once the Senate added a deadline of 2015, she voted for the amended version.

"He did just what he said he was going to do," she said on the House floor Friday, thanking Harris for the amendments to the bill.

The bill is awaiting transmittal to Gov. Sarah Palin.

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