Cruise line sludge could go to county waste plant


Cruise line sludge could go to county waste plantLast updated September 18, 2007 11:27 p.m. PT


The King County Council has pledged to lend its technical expertise to help the Port of Seattle and cruise lines figure out what to do with the 4.2 million gallons of sewage sludge the ships produce every year as they pass through here on their way to Alaska.

Last December, the Washington state Department of Ecology asked the cruise industry and the port to study sending the waste ashore. A preliminary study found that pumping it out into trucks that would take it to the South Treatment Plant in Renton is the best option — and one not too different from what some cruise ships already do.

From there, the human waste would be treated and become part of the King County Wastewater Division’s program to reuse the fecal matter as fertilizer on farms and recovering forestlands.

“The question is whether this cruise industry that we’ve coveted and asked to come here is, as an industry, being protective of the natural resources that we’re trying to showcase,” said Councilman Larry Phillips, chairman of the Regional Water Quality Committee.

“If you have the sludge on the ship here, but are dumping it into the ocean, is that the best way to do it? If you have several thousand people on board … well, what are you going to do with the stuff now that it is 12 miles to sea?”

The King County Wastewater Division can handle the waste, which otherwise is dumped into the ocean 12 miles from shore because of an international agreement that extends U.S. protections against sewage sludge dumping by nine miles.

Whether the cruise lines will change their practices is to be decided by the Port of Seattle, the North West CruiseShip Association and the Department of Ecology, all parties to an agreement that governs the treatment and disposal of cruise ship sewage in Puget Sound and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Under that agreement, first struck in 2004 and revised annually, untreated sewage cannot be dumped within Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, south of the international boundary with Canada, as well as the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

That agreement’s success has depended in part on the cruise lines’ continual investment into more advanced onboard sewage treatment systems whose results are comparable to King County’s. After sewage is treated with those onboard systems — which first strain much of the more solid fecal matter from it — it can be discharged into Puget Sound within one nautical mile of the port berth while the ship is traveling at 6 knots.

King County estimated that the average Alaska-bound cruise ship discharges about 360,000 gallons of treated sewage during the two days it spends in Washington waters. Wayne Grotheer, the Seattle port’s director of seaport finance and asset management, and John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association, said the agreement is working.

“We don’t see the benefits — environmentally or cost — to changing” that agreement, Hansen said. But he said the cruise lines “are willing to discuss alternative means for handling biosolids” — the sanitized name for the concentrated sludge produced during the sewage treatment process.

Neither Grotheer nor Hansen’s comments seemed to support amending the agreement to specify onshore disposal of the 28,000 gallons of sewage sludge strained from each ship’s sewage during a seven-day trip to Alaska.

Cruise ships also can burn their waste, then dump the ashes or send them ashore. Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Executive Director Dennis McLerran has expressed concerns about burning sludge near populated areas.

In a memo given to commissioners and the public in June, Grotheer and another port staffer said the port expected to begin an “in-depth public outreach program” about the matter after which it was possible that the port would pursue further action.

Last year, the port expected 196 cruise ship calls and about 368,000 passengers. It is planning to open a new $60 million cruise facility at Terminal 91 by 2009, tearing down the $18 million Terminal 30 building — built in 2003 — to make way for a major container terminal.

Fred Felleman, the Northwest representative of the non-profit Friends of the Earth, called for the port and the cruise lines to study how much it would cost to pump the sludge from their holds onto trucks onshore. Felleman also asked King County to determine how much it would charge for the service.

“Ecology asked to have the sludge discussion a year ago,” Felleman said. “We’ve now agreed to have the sludge discussion, rather than actually having the sludge discussion.”

P-I reporter Kristen Millares Bolt can be reached at 206-448-8142 or© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on September 19, 2007.

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