Valdez City Council Likes Cruise Ship Baloney

In 2006, the citizens of Alaska voted in favor of keeping our coastal waters clean over allowing the growing cruise ship industry to use our coast waters as its waste water dump. This new law reflected Alaskans’ desire to require the cruise industry to use best available technology to treat sewer and industrial waste before dumping it into our pristine fjords or city harbors. Being reasonable land stewards, we gave the industry six years to comply with the law and fix their big boats. We gave them extensions to comply and now they want another. In fact, if the industry had their way, they would return to the standards in place before the voters spoke.
Apparently the Valdez City Council wants to turn Prince William Sound into a sewage stop, not a port stop. On February 4th, the Council approved Resolution #13-7 in support of House Bill 80 which “urged” the state to allow the industry to do just that. Cruise ships in Alaska will be allowed to release millions of gallons of a treated toxic soup from floating cities, more pollution than has ever been allowed for the cruise industry in Alaska. The fact that a cruise ship is a heavy, industrial, floating platform seems to have been lost behind the colorful stack insignias, pennants, pomp, and Juneau’s lobbyists for big ocean cruising.
The industry is also asking to expand the discharge mixing zone because they cannot comply with the current requirements to control pollution in the smaller zones. That sounds like “solution to pollution is another fathom of dilution”. I don’t buy it and neither did the governor citizen’s advisory panel on the issue. Actually most of the ships can comply with existing rules but complain that maintenance and compliance monitoring affects their profit line and, thus, will hurt the industry. In reality, industry representatives are now simply resorting to the same whiny fear-mongering they used in a failed attempt to defeat another citizens’ referendum that established a $50 per passenger head tax. Alaska cruises are more popular than ever despite their attempts to make us think otherwise.
The Mayor argued that the cruise ship industry is being unfairly picked on, so his resolution would allow cruise ships to operate at the same waste water discharge standard as a fishing tender with a small crew, an oil tanker with a crew of only twenty, or a state ferry carrying a few hundred passengers for a single day. Comparing the impact of these vessels with the daily greywater and cleaning chemicals needed to maintain the desired degree of cleanliness for a holiday cruise, along with the human waste of thousands is ludicrous. A dozen or more cruise ships move through Prince William Sound each week at the peak of cruise season and their waste volumes are alarming in comparison to other industries such as small fish processing and oil transportation related services. These ships visit other parts of Prince William Sound that are critically important to Valdez fishermen and recreationalists. In those bays and fjords we share with the big ships, this issue becomes significant where frequent dumping of waste can become concentrated over short periods of time.

These numbers highlight the impact of a single cruise ship carrying 3,000 visitors through Southcentral Alaska for one week:

• 210,000 gallons of sewage (blackwater) – treated and discharged
• 1,000,000 greywater – treated and discharged
• 130 gallons toxic waste – treated discharged
• 8 tons of solid waste – treated discharged
• 25,000 oily bilge water –treated discharged

Mayor Cobb’s unabashed support for the resolution to allow cruise ships (pop.1,000-5,000) to discharge waste dirtier than the City of Valdez’s sewage treatment system is wrongheaded. A typical cruise ship discharges in a week about the same as the City of Valdez does over a day, roughly 1 million gallons, but our treatment plant requires more monitoring and stricter recording. In fact, Valdez will be spending millions over the next few years to make our facility the best in Alaska.
Finally, does the Mayor think the cruise ship industry likes Valdez so much that he would become their advocate for allowing more pollution in Port Valdez and Prince William Sound? The cruise ship industry gave up on Valdez over a decade ago. Once, we had eighty cruise ship visits each summer. Then, the industry just found a better port (less industrial?) and didn’t like us anymore. Princess, Holland, and the other cruise lines don’t bring visitors to Valdez except for an occasional busload on the way to a hotel a hundred miles away. While we have tried to be their friends they have responded by ignoring us.
The Mayor oddly fumed at the concerns voiced by another council person as “baloney” and said he would take this matter up in private as if he was going to scold his fellow council member like a school kid. That councilperson had legitimate concerns. It’s almost as if Mayor Cobb believes that those opposing his resolution are uneducated and should be bullied from the pulpit. Valdez unfortunately now stands alienated from other Prince William Sound communities that oppose more pollution in our common waters.
Ironically, the Valdez City Council often points to the 2006 referendum passed by the citizens of Alaska to create a Gas Pipeline Authority as worth supporting endlessly because it believes Alaskan voters spoke. Yet, by passing the resolution #13-7 (4 yeas, 2 nays), it opposes the majority of Alaskans who also voted YES for stricter discharge limits and increased monitoring of waste water for factory cruise ships in the very same year. I say “baloney” back to you Mr. Mayor.

by Matt Kinney