Strait not totally protected from cruise ship wastewater

By Brian Gawley
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The Strait of Juan de Fuca is not totally protected from wastewater dumped by cruise ships.
A “memorandum of understanding” signed Tuesday by the Port of Seattle, Northwest Cruiseship Association and the state Department of Ecology extends to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary voluntary restrictions on cruise ships dumping their wastewater that were established in 2004.
The original agreement established the restrictions 12 miles offshore of any Washington state coastline.
It closed the “doughnut hole” between the San Juan Islands, Port Townsend and Victoria, where there were less stringent dumping guidelines designed for the deep ocean.
The sanctuary encompasses 3,310 square miles off of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, extending 135 miles along the Washington Coast from about Cape Flattery to the mouth of the Copalis River.
Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said existing federal law allowed wastewater discharges more than three miles offshore through a “Type 2” wastewater treatment system, which is virtually equal to an onshore treatment system.
But Ecology didn’t think that was good enough because a cruise ship can carry as many as 2,000 people, he said.
“So Ecology signed an agreement with the Northwest Cruiseship Association that they won’t release any wastewater in Washington state waters unless the ship has a certified Type 2 wastewater treatment system,” Altose said.
The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was covered by a portion of it and those officials wanted that coverage area expanded to include the entire sanctuary, he said.
Smaller cruise lines or tankers don’t belong to the association covered by the MOU but most cruise lines making regular port calls in Puget Sound are included, he said.

Enforcement
However, enforcement of the agreement depends largely upon publicly shaming the offending cruise ship company.
“As far as enforcement, the MOU is a statement of intent by Ecology,” he said.
“If you are outside of three miles, it’s not considered waters of the state.
“So Ecology can’t enforce the agreement.”
Ecology can take action in two other ways though, Altose said.
The first is through posting online all the wastewater system inspection reports required by the MOU.
“We’re entitled to board them and get wastewater treatment reports,” Altose said.
The second is through fines for wastewater discharges within the three-mile limit that is considered to be within state waters, he said.
Such an enforcement action was taken against Celebrity Cruiselines in November 2006, he said.
The company was fined $100,000 for 10 discharges made by the cruise ship Celebrity Mercury over nine days in September and October 2005.
The fine was reduced to $70,000 after three discharges were determined to be in Canadian waters.
The 542,332 gallons consisted mostly of untreated sink, shower and laundry water, with a small percentage of sewage treated with a Coast Guard-certified marine sanitation device.
Civil penalties for unauthorized wastewater discharges can range as high as $25,000 per violation per day.
“Those discharges already are illegal, but Ecology wouldn’t have found out without the record keeping requirement contained in the 2004 MOU,” he said.
But Ecology has no enforcement authority in the sanctuary, since it extends more than three miles off the coast, Altose said.
“But cruise lines wanted to publicly state their intentions,” he said.
“This exposes all their actions to public review regarding their environmental actions.
John Hansen, president of Northwest Cruiseship Association said, “The cruise lines are committed to maintaining very high environmental standards in Washington waters and in the neighboring jurisdictions of British Columbia and Alaska.
“The MOU is a very important instrument for setting, and maintaining, those standards,” he said.
The geographic boundary covered by the 2004 MOU stops halfway across the 22-mile Strait of Juan de Fuca where the Canadian border begins.

Canada’s rules weaker
According to environmentalists across the border, the Canadian government’s regulations are weaker and contain fewer penalties than this state’s, despite new legislation approved last week.
Reforms of the Canadian Shipping Act, dubbed “Regulations for Prevention of Pollution from Shipping and Dangerous Chemicals” were released last week in Hull, Quebec.
“I am embarrassed to say that Canada’s regulations pale in comparison,” said Ross Klein a sociology professor from Memorial University of Newfoundland, who has written several books on the cruise ship industry.
“Under new regulations announced last week by the Canadian government, a cruise ship may discharge untreated gray water when four miles from shore,” he said.
“There are no explicit rules or regulations applying to ships with advanced wastewater treatment systems, and they may discharge treated sewage from a marine sanitation devices three miles from shore,” Klein said.
“In other words, Canada’s new regulations entrench it more firmly into the position of the toilet bowl for ships in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
“They can dump in Canada with little forethought and obviously with much greater flexibility than in Washington, Alaska, or California,” Klein said.
The new regulations lack a schedule of fines or an enforcement regime, “so it is difficult to know what the penalties are for what offenses,” he said.
Klein’s analysis was echoed by Howard Breen, Marine Campaign Coordinator for Travel Just, a Bristish Columbia-based environmental group that has tracked cruise ship pollution for years.
“(The new regulations) received a lot of fanfare that they were a crackdown but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
“If anything these new regulations will lead to an increase in cruise ship pollution.”
These new regulations repeal eight sets of shipping regulations and replace them with the weaker contaminant standards of earlier voluntary guidelines co-crafted by the cruise industry, Breen said.
“It will become a bigger issue as time goes on,” Breen said.
Under the Canada Shipping Act, the maximum fine is $1 million but the ship must be taken to court in a criminal action.
________
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or brian.gawley@peninsuladailynews.com.

~ by fredfelleman on April 11, 2007.

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