Cruise ship environmental impacts under scrutiny

Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Alaskans are concerned about the impacts the cruise ship industry may be having on our environment. We have a right to be, but this week Alaskans have the opportunity for some hands-on inspections of cruise ship environmental systems and an update from regulatory agencies.

The cruise ships calling on the port of Juneau today through Friday are offering a slightly different type of tour and we can all get on board. As part of this week's Cruise Ship Environmental Awareness Days, the ships will be offering public tours of their air quality, water quality and waste management systems. This opportunity for the public is just one facet of an initiative launched last December by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to improve controls on cruise ship pollution and keep Alaskans informed.

Since December, DEC, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Southeast Conference and citizen groups have been working with cruise ship industry representatives to meet the following objectives:

Identify waste streams and spill risks that could impact Alaska's air and water resources.

Develop pollution prevention and waste management solutions that will eliminate or reduce impacts.

Assess what additional agency oversight and processes are needed to verify compliance.

Progress can be reported on several fronts with increased monitoring and pollution prevention efforts in place.

New improvements that will be in effect this season include:

Random, independent wastewater samples will be collected and analyzed from cruise ships to ensure discharges are in compliance with environmental regulations.

No untreated wastewater or solid waste will be discharged in the Inside Passage ``doughnut holes,'' locations over three miles from land.

Large ships will not discharge treated sewage or graywater in port and, as capacity allows, will withhold discharges until they are underway and clear of ports to ensure dilution of discharges.

Several cruise ships have been outfitted with graywater filtration systems as a pilot project to evaluate new technologies.

Two spill response barges have been deployed in Glacier Bay, and six more will be built and deployed by the cruise ship industry throughout Southeast Alaska in 2000.

The cruise ship industry is conducting ambient air quality monitoring to improve air quality data.

In addition to monitoring ongoing practices, progress is being made toward establishing an environmental leadership program to recognize and provide incentives to Alaska cruise ships incorporating best environmental management practices.

As might be expected, increased scrutiny may direct agencies to areas in need of improvement. The EPA has stepped up monitoring of smokestack violations this season. A DEC-approved contractor is also conducting increased air quality opacity monitoring of ships in downtown Juneau as part of the state settlement agreement with a cruise ship company.

The U.S. Coast Guard has launched Operation Cruise Watch 2000 to better oversee cruise ship overboard discharges through increased overflights of the waters cruise ships operate in to ensure there are no illegal discharges, and the conduct of more comprehensive environmental inspections of the vessels.

We sincerely thank everyone who has been involved in this methodical, fact-finding process and in implementing the improvements and oversight described above. We look forward to reviewing this information at the end of the season to evaluate management or regulatory programs.

Please join us for tours of cruise ship environmental management systems from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. Tours will start at the gangway of those ships alongside the city dock. Please wear flat shoes and be able to go up and down ship ladders. As the tour will proceed through engineering spaces, in the interest of safety, no children under 12 will be permitted.

There will also be an opportunity for one-on-one discussions from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at Centennial Hall with members of the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative Work Groups set up to establish monitoring and verification plans for this season. A public discussion will follow from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and will include representatives from DEC, the Coast Guard, EPA, Southeast Conference and concerned citizens.

In closing, we're confident the course set this past year by a work group comprised of regulatory agencies, the cruise industry and citizen's groups will reduce the environmental impact of cruise ship operations and substantially improve our understanding of the impact cruise ships have on Alaska's environment. We encourage you to participate in this week's events to see for yourself what's being done to address Alaskans' concerns.

We hope to see you at these events.

Michele Brown is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Rear Adm. Thomas J. Barrett is the commander of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District.

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