Cruise ship promo draws few

Industry disappointed in low turnout for educational events

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2000

An environmental awareness program intended to educate the public about the operations of cruise ships had only modest success this week.

Tours of waste-handling facilities aboard ships in port Wednesday and Thursday were lightly attended.

John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association, estimated attendance at 75 people each day. The tours were to conclude this afternoon.

And a public forum Thursday evening at Centennial Hall drew only 40 people, mostly a familiar mix of appointed and elected government officials, community and environment watchdogs, news media, and cruise industry spokesmen and consultants.

Mike Conway, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation manager who coordinated the week's events, said he's not quite sure why a promotional effort failed to attract more regular citizens.

``It is a little frustrating,'' he said.

The collaborative project between the cruise industry and its regulators, known as the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, was meant to increase public confidence in environmental protection measures being taken by both sides. This week's events had been planned for months.

But the ship tours, scheduled during the work day, were not convenient to attend, Conway acknowledged. According to one voice mail message he got, anger about that might have suppressed turnout at Thursday evening's forum, he said.

And some people who aren't professional participants in the discussion about cruise ship environmental practices weren't happy about DEC's failure to notify them of recent developments with pollution monitoring.

``There have been a few surprises here the last few weeks,'' complained Robert Reges, co-founder of Cruise Control, a citizens group concerned with the impacts of industrial scale tourism.

Random sampling of wastewater discharges from ships began this week. A contract for air-opacity measurements of cruise ship stack emissions was signed last weekend, and one downtown site for ambient air monitoring was selected in recent days.

While they didn't object to those developments, Reges and other citizens who have been involved with the Cruise Ship Initiative said it was alarming to be suddenly out of the loop.

Conway of DEC said there should have been notification to all interested parties. ``We have to do a better job of communicating. Our intent is not to leave people out.''

Reges also said there needs to be something official, on paper, about what commitments the cruise industry has made, as citizens ``can't spend six months every year to get 44 (water) samples.'' Regulations or laws are needed to ensure ongoing sampling on a more regular schedule, he said.

Hansen, the cruise ship official, said that much has been accomplished.

``We've come a long way from where we were at this time last year,'' he said. ``We have made a substantial contribution toward a clean environment here.''

But Loren Gerhard, executive director of the Southeast Conference, an economic development group, warned that if the cruise industry can't satisfy concerns about pollution, ``our citizens will rightfully insist on legislative solutions.''

Although the Cruise Ship Initiative has emphasized cooperation over regulation, one federal regulator said new rules could be on the way.

``What we may have here is an industry that has outpaced current regulations and current statutes,'' said Steve Torok of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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