Two months ago, Gov. Tony Knowles stood by the cruise ship dock downtown and described the industry's environmental performance as "disgraceful."
On Monday morning, 16 top executives from nine cruise companies and one industry umbrella group are scheduled to meet with the governor, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown, members of the Attorney General's office and other administration staffers.
Knowles demanded the meeting after seeing test results for fecal coliform in cruise ship wastewater discharges. But it's unclear what will come of the planned two-hour session at the Capitol.
"We certainly want a signal from the industry that they support our goal of ensuring a clean and safe cruise ship industry to preserve our clean water and air and protect the Alaska environment, and by doing so maintaining Alaska as a premier cruise ship destination," said Bob King, spokesman for Knowles.
King said Knowles will follow up on the Watergate-style question he posed to the industry in mid-September, regarding which top officials knew about problems with discharges and when they knew it. "We are interested, though, in moving forward," King added.
Industry spokespeople said they don't necessarily think they're being taken to the woodshed.
"We don't see this as a confrontational meeting," said Lynn Martenstein, vice president of corporate communications for Royal Caribbean. Rather, it's an opportunity to bring Knowles up to date on what the industry is doing, she said.
"The consensus is certainly that the goals that the governor has are very much in line, if not identical, to the goals the executives in the industry have," said Dean Brown, executive vice president of Princess Cruises and a spokesman for the North West CruiseShip Association. "We're not at odds with the governor on the goal we want to obtain. And we feel we'll be able to end the meeting on a very positive note in that regard."
The closed-door session will not include citizen watchdogs who have been active on the issue.
Gershon Cohen of the Haines-based Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters said Knowles has the right to the private meeting, "as long as public policy isn't being established as a direct result, without other input."
"Our bottom line has not changed in the past year," Cohen said. "This industry should have to tell us what they are discharging, when they are discharging, where they are discharging, how much they are discharging and provide us with enough information to determine the potential for harm to the marine environment, just as every other industrial and municipal discharger must do already."
King said individual cruise companies will be asked to state their support for pending federal legislation, even though their umbrella group, the International Council of Cruise Lines, already has put its weight behind it.
The legislation, brokered by Alaska's junior Sen. Frank Murkowski and being guided by senior Sen. Ted Stevens, is awaiting action when Congress goes back for a lame-duck session.
Although the Clinton administration has expressed concerns, the bill has the support of other major players, including environmentalists. It calls for sampling and testing of cruise ship discharges in Alaska waters and would allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations here. The state of Alaska also could impose regulations and could ask EPA to establish no-discharge zones in environmentally sensitive areas.
King said it's possible that cruise company executives will be asked to react to potential state legislation, as well.
Knowles has called for the industry to continue to bear the expense of monitoring and inspection efforts. And Rep. Beth Kerttula of Juneau said she expects legislative support for her "right to know" bill requiring companies to disclose information on emissions and discharges.
"I think right now the focus is on Washington, D.C.," King said. "If that (congressional action) doesn't take place, we'll certainly take a look at our options."
The cruise industry contends it is working hard, at its own initiative, to improve environmental performance.
In a letter to Knowles Sept. 26, Royal Caribbean International President Jack Williams, who also oversees Celebrity Cruises, stressed that discharges are taking place as far from shore as possible, but no less than three miles.
"At Celebrity Cruises, whose ships have less holding capacity, we have installed prototype state-of-the-art, reverse-osmosis equipment to purify graywater and treated blackwater to a very high standard," Williams wrote. "You may find it interesting that during my town meeting in Skagway this last July, Mayor (John) Mielke drank some of this water from the samples we had taken with us."
Nancy Wheatley, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president for safety and environment, said some "sensational reports" during the summer aside, there has been good scientific work conducted by the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, a collaborative project among the industry, the public and regulators.
Wheatley said her understanding is that technical issues won't be discussed during the meeting Monday. But she said if the governor is looking for a commitment to continuing the process, Royal Caribbean will give one.
Some wastewater analysis is pending. But an interim report from the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative will be available for the meeting. Among the summarized information for the 2000 cruise ship season:
240 readings were taken of "air opacity," a visual measurement of how much of the background is obscured by smoke from the ships. In 34 cases, the readings exceeded the permissible obstruction, which is generally 20 percent. The state issued 16 citations, and the EPA issued four. Fines are possible.
Ambient air-quality monitoring downtown determined that all health-related standards are being met.
No environmental violations were observed by U.S. Coast Guard aircraft and cutters during the agency's Operation Cruise Watch 2000.
Numerous violations of federal treatment standards for sewage were identified in lab tests of treated blackwater, or toilet waste. Five regulatory actions by the Coast Guard are pending for ships with malfunctioning marine sanitation devices.
Fecal coliform levels in unregulated graywater, which is collected from laundries, showers, sinks and galleys, often exceeded even the blackwater discharges that violated regulations.
No evidence was found that ships were mixing hazardous wastes with their wastewater discharges, although elevated levels of heavy metals were found.
An initial finding of trace elements of a banned pesticide was refuted in subsequent testing.
The industry voluntarily held off on discharges until 10 miles from port, traveling at 6 knots or faster.
Various experimental treatment methodologies for graywater were tested by cruise companies.
No conclusion was reached about the impact of marine discharges upon human or animal health or the environment.
Confirmed for Monday's meeting are World Explorer President K.Y. Tang and Vice President of Operations Ron Valentine; Radisson Seven Seas President Mark Conroy and Director of Safety Operations Richard Evenhand; Williams and Wheatley for Royal Caribbean; Crystal Cruises Senior Vice President Joe Valenti; Holland America-Westours Chairman/CEO Kirk Lanterman and Vice President of Compliance Programs Rich Softye; Brown and Princess Tours Vice President of Public Affairs Tom Dow; Carnival Cruises Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety Jim Walsh; Norwegian Cruise Lines Vice President of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs Andrew Phillips and Senior Vice President Robert Kritzman; and International Council of Cruise Lines Acting President Michael Crye and Executive Vice President Ted Thompson.
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