JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The president of the Alaska Cruise Association on Thursday labeled as reckless claims surrounding a bill that would change how the state regulates cruise ship wastewater.
John Binkley told the Senate Finance Committee that he has read reports from groups like the Alaska Democratic Party "talking about raw sewage being dumped" into Alaska waters. Binkley said cruise lines are not dumping raw sewage and have taken steps to protect Alaska's waters.
Democrats said they never referred to raw sewage and Binkley was mischaracterizing their statements. In a Facebook post Thursday, the party said the bill would allow for the release of "partially treated sewage."
In an email blast earlier this week, Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Mike Wenstrup labeled the measure "Parnell's sewage bill." He said the bill — a version of which has passed the House — could "legalize discharge of cruise ships' sewage and untreated wastewater into Alaska state waters."
Binkley said that's untrue "and they're misleading Alaskans by trying to have them believe that's the case."
The bill, proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell, would require that cruise ships discharge wastewater in a manner consistent with applicable state or federal law. It would strike the more stringent requirement that discharges meet state water quality standards at the point of discharge. It would allow mixing zones where wastewater can be diluted into the water, if ships meet certain standards for treatment of discharge.
Critics say the proposal would roll back provisions of a citizen initiative requiring that cruise ships meet state water quality standards when dumping wastewater. They also say it isn't based on the best available science.
Lawmakers in 2009 passed legislation allowing the Department of Environmental Conservation to temporarily let cruise ships have mixing zones. Commissioner Larry Hartig has said companies at that time weren't meeting the more rigorous standard set out by the initiative, at least for certain pollutants. That authority is set to expire in 2015.
Last year, a science advisory panel in a preliminary report found none of the advanced wastewater treatment systems on ships operating in Alaska waters could consistently meet water quality standards at the point of discharge for four "constituents of concern."
One of the panel members, marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway, has testified against the bill and disagreed with some of the group's findings. She has said she's worried Parnell's proposal would be a disincentive to finding better ways to treat wastewater.
Julianne Curry, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said her group has problems with the bill, too, but she said she's also concerned with the impression the rhetoric surrounding the debate may be leaving.
"Alaska's pretty proud of our reputation here," she said. "It's important we have clean water. It's our to our seafood industry. It's important to our tourism industry. Those terms being used don't help any of us."
Follow Becky Bohrer at http://twitter.com/beckybohrerap .