Knowles signs cruise ship bill

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Calling it a ''worldwide model'' for cruise ship legislation, Gov. Tony Knowles on Friday signed a bill to regulate wastewater discharges from the giant international vessels traveling in Alaska.

''Today we do christen a new era of protection for Alaska's waters,'' Knowles said, standing on the Alaska Steamship Dock in downtown Juneau, where the ships often tie up. He was surrounded by supporters of the measure, which passed in a special session earlier this month.

''By signing this bill, House Bill 260, we will chart a course other states and other nations are already looking to follow,'' Knowles said.

A new federal law that passed in December prohibits disposal of treated sewage and gray water -- the water from sinks and showers -- closer than one mile to shore unless is it cleaned to a very high standard. Raw sewage must be dumped at least three miles from shore.

The state legislation builds on the federal law by also setting a cleanup standard for gray water and requiring the ships to provide information on their solid waste and hazardous waste handling practices.

It calls for a $1 per passenger fee to cover costs of the program, which will include cruise ship air emissions monitoring. The emissions monitoring program is already on the books, but in some years has gone unfunded.

The bill also gives the state access to the ships' water testing and disposal records and gives the state authority to board ships and do its own testing.

Richard Softye, Holland America Line's vice president for compliance, said in an interview that the new law is the most comprehensive of any state.

''Is it something we can live with? Surely,'' Softye said. ''As a matter of fact, we're proud of what we're doing.''

Holland America has installed a treatment system in one of its ships that cleans wastewater to a level that can legally be discharged in port. Other cruise companies are also working on new technology.

Ships that aren't yet outfitted with new treatment systems, including some of Holland America's, must travel farther offshore to discharge waste.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown said it makes sense that Alaska law would go further than other states because the cruise ships spend more time in Alaska waters, which are a destination, not just a starting point for a cruise.

The law comes after the revelation two years ago that one cruise line had illegally dumped oily bilge water and toxic chemicals in the mid-1990s and after a voluntary testing program in 2000 found almost none of the wastewater samples from the ships in Alaska met federal standards for suspended solids and fecal coliform bacteria.

House Bill 260 was sponsored by Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, after the Republican-led Legislature ignored a bill introduced by the governor. The industry-endorsed bill was originally rejected by Knowles as not stringent enough.

Spurred on partly by bad publicity, the industry negotiated a compromise version of HB 260 that included many of the provisions in the governor's bill as well as some provisions in a cruise ship discharge reporting bill by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

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