Cruise ship discharged permit challenged

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Haines environmental activist is challenging the Department of Environmental Conservation's issuance of a cruise ship wastewater discharge permit.

Gershon Cohen, representing the Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters, says the cruise industry is in violation of the Cruise Ship Initiative that he helped pass four years ago.

Cohen said he expects the administrative appeal, filed with he same agency that issued the permit, to be rejected. It is a necessary step before filing a lawsuit in Superior Court, he said.

DEC issued a 2010 general permit for large passenger vessels on April 22, just prior to the beginning of the summer cruise ship season.

Cohen said the permit only requires cruise ships to use whatever wastewater treatment system they have on board, rather than the "best available technology" called for in state law.

"There is no justification for ADEC's failure to require the industry to perform to the level established in statute," Cohen wrote in his appeal.

Cohen said years of testing of cruise ship wastewater discharges shows which systems work best, and that should be required for all ships.

According to information provided by DEC's Cruise Ship Program, cruise ships that discharge wastewater into Alaska's marine waters already have Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS).

"The general permit requires use of AWTS as a condition of discharge. Because there are different manufacturers of AWTS and they produce varying levels of effluent quality, the general permit includes effluent limits specific to the type of treatment system," according to program staff.

But Cohen argues "That's not best available technology, that's just ridiculous."

The cruise ship initiative passed by voters in 2006 included new pollution regulations, a per-passenger head tax and required that cruise ships be covered by the state's gambling and income taxes. It also included the "Ocean Ranger," program, placing licensed marine engineers on ships to monitor environmental compliance.

The industry has been fighting back against the initiative, and has managed to get parts of it partially repealed.

The wastewater discharge requirements were amended in 2009 in a compromise sought by industry lobbyists but opposed by initiative supporters. And in the 2010 legislative session, the head tax was partially rolled back as well.

Key issues at stake are how well various treatment methods are able to remove ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc from water.

Cohen made headlines earlier this year when DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig appointed him to the state's Cruise Ship Science Advisory Panel as a representative of environmental groups, but then removed him after industry complaints that he was biased.

Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.

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