Ocean ranger program may cost $6 million, agency reports

Department estimates it will generate about $4 million from fees

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

The state would have to spend as much as $6 million to fully implement a voter mandate requiring ocean rangers on all cruise ships using Alaska waters, the agency charged with implementing the law reported Wednesday.

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Most of that would be labor costs associated with hiring 30 U.S. Coast Guard certified engineers to be on the boats all day, in 12-hour shifts, while they are in Alaska waters. Such engineers would cost the state as much as $100,000 each per summer if they worked continuously, according to Sharmon Stambaugh, an environmental program manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

If the rangers were not on board 24 hours a day and were not booked on the luxury cruises, which can cost $4,000 to $6,000 per week, that cost could come down.

"If we chose to not have a ranger on every single vessel in Alaska, and augmented that with in-port inspections, we could probably come in under $4 million and make better use of those dollars," said Stambaugh. The cost of booking berths is turning out to be more expensive than expected, she said this week.

Ocean ranger program

Numbers for summer 2007

• 114: overnight rides between May and September.

• Three: Multiday voyages.

• Eight: trips canceled because of weather, lack of berths or schedule changes.

• 27: cruise ships regularly operating in Alaska waters boarded at least once.

• Two: Minor incidents reported, including an oil leak and a hull maintenance issue.

• In 2006, eight of 30 vessels chose not to get an Alaska waste discharge permit, and instead went out to federal waters.

• In 2008, there may be 30 ocean rangers reporting daily for up to 5 months, who will generate 4,500 reports for DEC to process.

Source: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

The department estimates it will generate about $4 million from its portion of a $50 fee assessed to each cruise passenger. The program was mandated by voters in last year's election.

Stambaugh presented an update on the ocean ranger program Wednesday night at the Terry Miller Building. About 40 people attended and asked questions about the new program's costs, logistics and the engineer qualifications.

The state assumes an engineer's berth on a ship will cost $2,100 per week, the average cost of a double berth.

Chip Thoma suggested that if the state could book only one bed in the berth, and pay $1,000 per week, it could cut its costs in half. He also suggested renting homes in popular Southeast port towns to cut down on the costs of lodging the rangers while in port.

Aaron Brakel wondered whether there is any monitoring of air quality around the ships, and whether there could be testing of Juneau's air in the off season to determine how clean the air is when the boats aren't around.

"I've watched the air quality impacts of the cruise ships seem to increase over time, since there's a lot more and they are bigger. (Juneau's air quality) really seems to be impacted by the large vessels with a large number of stacks, and I know they are monitoring the individual stacks, but there's a cumulative overall impact," Brakel said.

Stambaugh said such studies are on the department's "wish list" but that there wasn't money available this year, or staff time.

Department staff also gave an update on a new vessel tracking system that logs the path of ships through Alaska waters. The system allows staff to pinpoint which ships were in a location when there has been a complaint about suspicious activity. The system is up and running and will cost around $80,000 per year.

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