Alaska DEC seeks to replace Ocean Rangers, use some funds for shoreside wastewater plants

A passenger stands on the dock near a cruise ship in Juneau, May 19, 2019. (Photo by Ryan Cunningham/KTOO)

Lawmakers have received an updated proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to replace independent cruise ship monitors with a state-run inspection regime.

Those independent monitors — called Ocean Rangers — are part of a program created by a 2006 ballot initiative that Alaska voters passed by a 4% margin. The governor used his line-item veto last year to block the program’s industry funding. That effectively canceled the program for this year’s cruise season.

The details of the state’s new plan are laid out in House Bill 74. It includes supplemental funding for Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff to conduct shoreside inspections this season. It also proposes to use the cruise industry revenue that had been used to pay for the Ocean Rangers program to finance upgrades to sewer plants in port communities.

We think there’s an opportunity to actually continue to play the regulatory role that we play with overseeing the cruise ship industry,” DEC Commissioner Jason Brune told CoastAlaska on Tuesday. “But also use some of these funds to actually upgrade the shoreside wastewater treatment facilities, which are impacted by cruise visitors.

About half the fees collected by cruise ships under the proposal would be made available to upgrade wastewater plants, many of which operate on EPA waivers because they fail to meet federal standards.

It would offer discounts to ships that voluntarily install electronic monitoring equipment on vessels’ wastewater treatment systems. The agency would add four staffers to oversee cruise ships.

That’s compared to the nearly two dozen licensed marine engineers contracted as seasonal Ocean Rangers last year.

The bill is scheduled to be heard again by the House State Affairs Committee on Feb. 18.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the 2006 ballot initiative from which the Ocean Rangers program originated had passed “overwhelmingly.” Alaska Division of Elections results show that the initiative, called Measure No. 2 on the 2006 ballot, passed with 52.07% in favor and 47.93% opposed.

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