By Mike McCarthy
House Bill 80 would allow large cruise ships, (those containing more than 500 passengers) to dump amounts of ammonia, dissolved copper, nickel and zinc into Alaska’s water’s that would violate Alaska Water Quality Standards and it would negate the 2006 Cruise-Ship Initiative that was passed by Alaskans.
My research on this bill included the 2003 Assessment of Cruise Ship and Ferry Impacts in Alaska report by The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. This report cites that in 1990 there were 235,000 cruise ship passengers in Alaska; in 2003 there were 800,000 such passengers and in 2007 there 1,029,000 cruise ship passengers, (nearly double the state population of 650,000). Approximately 95 percent of the current cruise ship traffic is concentrated in Southeast Alaska.
The logic of comparing the cruise line vessels pollution with that of fishing vessels or the Alaska Marine Highway ferries is false logic. It is akin to comparing the destructive force of a 1,000 pound bomb to that of an atom bomb.
Consider that, in 2003, there were 328 cruise ship visits to Skagway. The average cruise ship carries 2,300 passengers, and the largest cruise ships carry up to 5,000 passengers. The average cruise ship effluent is 211,200 gallons per day. That amounts to 328 times 211,200 or 69,273,600 gallons per year for Skagway/Lynn Canal.
Given that the effluent is 90-95 percent gray water, it means that the Lynn Canal absorbed between 3,463,683 gallons and 1,731,840 gallons of contaminated black water sewage in 2003. How much pollution can the Lynn Canal absorb before its pristine waters are no longer pristine or productive and the seafood is no longer marketable?
Since the advent of the Cruise Ship Initiative, (ACSI) in 2000, the cruise ships have installed advanced wastewater systems. I heard testimony in the Feb. 7 Senate Finance Committee hearing that, “Presently the vast majority of the cruise line industry ships are in compliance with the existing regulations except for ammonia, dissolved copper, nickel and zinc pollution.”
It has been suggested that the 2006 Cruise Ship Initiative time line be extended to allow for pollution compliance. That seems like a reasonable compromise. Homer’s Rep. Paul Seaton voted for it, but was voted down.
What is the reason to get HB 80 pushed through with such haste? Is it for the good of Alaska’s pristine water where more than 50 percent or 5.1 billion pounds of all U.S. consumed seafood is produced, or the good of the cruise line industry? (Source: Fisheries of the United States 2002. Sept. 2003. National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, U.S. Dept. of Commerce).
The Science Advisory Panel should not be disbanded as HB 80 would allow. Instead, it should be strengthened with objective experts whose work and conclusions are not subject to government or industry approval. Ask yourself if HB 80 will be a benefit or a detriment to Alaskans five generations beyond the present. I believe it definitely not to be a benefit.
Mike McCarthy is a retired geologist, former police officer and active participant in issues bigger than politics.
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