As tourists get off of cruise ships this week, locals can get on.
Tours of on-board waste-handling facilities are being offered Wednesday through Friday as part of Environmental Awareness Days, a joint program of the cruise ship industry, state and federal regulators, and citizen activists.
The collaborative effort, known as the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, is intended to familiarize the public with environmental protection measures already in place and to preview technological advances that might better mitigate water discharges and air emissions.
The initiative is working on air- and water-quality monitoring efforts, as well. Those will be discussed at two public forums on Thursday.
The goal this week is a ``better-educated public,'' said Mike Conway of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who's coordinating state involvement in the initiative.
At the same time, the industry will be challenged to go ``above and beyond compliance, where companies can take pride in their performance,'' Conway said.
John Hansen, president of the Vancouver-based Northwest CruiseShip Association, will be attending the events this week. Hansen said he hopes for a good turnout by Juneau citizens.
``I find that when people have a chance to see what actually goes on on-board, it makes it come alive a lot more,'' Hansen said.
Tours of the ships begin at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday with the Sea Princess and the Ryndam. The 45-minute tours, which begin at the gangways at the city dock, will go through 11:30 a.m.
They resume at 1 p.m., when two additional ships will be in port, concluding at 3:30 p.m. The schedule is repeated Thursday and Friday.
Flat shoes are recommended, and participants must be able to climb ship ladders without assistance. Children under 12 will not be admitted.
Also on view will be the second of four pairs of oil-spill response barges that are being financed and deployed by the cruise ship association this summer. One pair already is in service in Glacier Bay, and the second pair is being fitted now for deployment in Juneau, Hansen said.
On Thursday, an open house will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Citizens can speak one-on-one with members of the Cruise Ship Initiative group about various environmental issues. From 6 to 8 p.m., a general presentation will be given by initiative members.
Meanwhile, the initiative's plans for monitoring wastewater discharges from ships and ambient air quality downtown are just getting off the ground.
Random sampling of wastewater discharges was expected to begin this week. Samples will be taken 44 times, twice for each of 22 major cruise ships that will be entering Alaska waters for the rest of the season, said Conway of DEC.
On Monday, the initiative formally asked for bids for the air-quality monitoring contract. The monitoring, using existing DEC equipment, should begin about Aug. 1, Conway said.
However, the monitoring won't specifically target cruise ship emissions but will give an overview of ``the whole airshed of Juneau,'' he said.
The cruise ship association is picking up the tab for the monitoring, estimated to be about $50,000.
Additional visual inspections of cruise ship air emissions are being started this week by a third-party contractor hired by Royal Caribbean International. The findings will be reported directly to DEC. The contract, which is separate from ongoing federal monitoring of cruise ship air emissions, is part of the state's settlement with Royal Caribbean for admitted past pollution of Gastineau Channel and Lynn Canal.
Royal Caribbean President Jack Williams, who made an in-person apology for the pollution last year, will return to Juneau on Monday. He and other company officials will discuss the company's environmental performance in a public forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. Williams also will visit Ketchikan, Skagway and Haines.
RCCL and other cruise lines should be getting word soon about any actions to be taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to air-opacity violations last year and apparent violations last month, said John Pavitt of the EPA's Anchorage office.
The federal opacity standard -- a visual measurement of excessive emissions, which is used in the absence of actual data -- requires that no more than 20 percent of the background can be obscured by a ship's plume.
Last year, the EPA issued citations for 13 ships owned by six companies, and the agency now is near a decision on whether to impose fines, Pavitt said. Meanwhile, the EPA is deciding whether to issue citations for four cruise ships that were in apparent violation of air-opacity standards while in the Juneau port June 10-12.
``The EPA obviously wants the industry to perform better,'' Pavitt said.
But Hansen said the most recent air opacity readings aren't formally violations yet, noting that Pavitt's superiors are still reviewing his report.
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