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Conflicting expectations surfaced Wednesday about what can be accomplished this summer in assessing the environmental impact of cruise ships.
A joint committee of cruise industry representatives, regulators and interested citizens, called the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, has been formed to identify environmental concerns and collect emissions data.
During a public meeting in Juneau, officials of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the approach will have to be incremental, with an information-gathering phase before dramatic new steps are taken.
``We didn't conquer the world,'' said DEC Commissioner Michele Brown.
But environmental and community activists said the pace of the work is too slow and not enough will be known this year about the actual impact of cruise ship emissions upon humans and wildlife.
So far, the Cruise Ship Initiative has yielded a tentative agreement for the industry to fund a $53,000 air-quality monitoring program in Juneau this summer.
The Coast Guard's Rear Admiral Thomas J Barrett, DEC Commissioner Michele Brown and Dean Brown, Chairman of the Northwest Cruiseship Association, listen to comments during Wednesday's cruise ship public meeting with the multi agency steering committee.
MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
Regulatory agencies have a plan for random sampling of the effluent discharged from every cruise ship in state waters. There are joint discussions about new technologies that could be deployed on-board to significantly reduce emissions.
``This is probably the most comprehensive study that has ever taken place in the cruise ship industry,'' said Randy Ray, an industry representative from Washington state. ``This is cutting-edge stuff.''
Also, on July 12-14, an ``environmental awareness'' program will include public tours of waste-handling facilities on ships then in port.
``I wouldn't underplay how much has been achieved so far,'' said Rear Adm. Thomas J. Barrett of the U.S. Coast Guard.
But Juneau attorney Robert Reges, co-founder of the tourism-management group Cruise Control, said: ``I urge you, let's not overplay the results. ... Not to be unduly critical, I hope in the future you'll shoot a little bit higher and get a little bit more.''
Reges noted that the DEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't be monitoring out-of-stack emissions on the cruise ships, settling instead for ambient measurements in downtown Juneau. And as a high-tech piece of monitoring equipment isn't going to be loaned to the committee by EPA, as first thought, the ambient monitoring will consist merely of a few ``mothballed'' DEC instruments being set up on a hillside, he complained.
Gershon Cohen of Haines, a longtime water-quality advocate, told DEC's Brown that she already has the legal authority necessary to strictly enforce state environmental standards.
But Brown said the Legislature is unlikely to approve the required funding for enforcement efforts unless better data is available first.
Paula Terrel of Juneau, the only citizen member of the Cruise Ship Initiative's working group on environmental leadership, said there is ``a tremendous imbalance'' within that group because four of 14 participants represent cruise lines.
Terrel said she tried to get other citizens to participate but failed. ``There is an issue of credibility. There is a feeling that we're going to be David in with Goliath, and that we are not going to be able to achieve measurable results.''
``You're aware that the David and Goliath thing didn't go too well for Goliath,'' responded Murray Walsh, representing the Southeast Conference.
Dean Brown of Princess Cruises, chairman of the North West CruiseShip Association, said it was ``ironic'' anyone would be alienated by the involvement of the industry in a voluntary project to ensure environmental protection.
Brown said the industry isn't getting enough credit for actions taken independently of the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative -- notably, the construction and deployment of oil-spill response barges, at the industry's expense.