New Cruise Discharge Bill Approved in Alaska

Clean water advocates mourn the Alaska Legislature's decision to delay water discharge requirements for cruise ships, despite those put in place three years ago by a citizen's initiative, reports Associated Press.

These waivers could hold through 2015 unless technology is available for vessels to meet standards.

In 2006, Alaska voters approved an initiative fought by the cruise industry that put a $50 passenger head tax and an "Ocean Ranger" program in place to keep an eye on safety, environmental care and sanitation. They also worked to establish wastewater dumping regulations.

Ships operating in Alaska are bypassing the regulations by relocating three miles off state coastline into federal waters. Because of islands, sometimes this means traveling 12 miles from mainland Alaska, leaving passengers little time in ports.

The original House Bill 134 allowed ships to dump treated water in mixing zones, diluting discharge before water quality measurements were made. The final version takes it off the books in 2015. Cruise ships will still be required to meet the water standard at the point of discharge.

More than 800 samples were taken last year from about 18 cruise ships, says Gershon Cohen, a member of the initiative.

"One-third of the time they were within the limits using their existing technology," he said. "That proves they are extremely close to meeting all the standards all the time."

Former state Sen. John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, said cruise lines would be happy to adopt affordable new technology to meet the standards if it were available.

"There's nothing dependable that gets us to those levels," he said. "Occasionally we hit them, but we're not sure why there are anomalies in the system."

Binkley said the new law will give regulators considering waivers some flexibility in deciding what is acceptable, depending on the receiving water, whether a vessel is moving and what kind of marine life is nearby.

He praised a provision of the bill that sets up a science panel to advise the department on new technology.

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