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Senator Giessel's Floor Speech on HB80

HB 80 allows for a cruise ship effluent mixing zone to meet Alaska marine Water Quality Standards.  These are the same mixing zone that allow municipal wastewater treatment plants, fish processors, and others to have mixing zones permitted through a public process.

There is considerable hyperbole and confusion around this bill.  There was an old TV show, featuring a detective.  When he was dealing with a distraught witness, the detective was famous for saying “Just the fact, ma’am.  Just the facts,”.  As policy makers, THAT is our responsibility.  We must objectively evaluate the facts.

HB 80 is a result of years of research by two science-based advisory panels, two technology workshops held here in Juneau and by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.  Technology has significantly advanced the wastewater treatment systems that are required on large cruise ships with more than 250 lower berths in Alaska waters. 

There has been some confusion related to a 2003 report that was brought up in our floor discussion last week.  The 2003 report analyzed small vessels of 50-249 passenger berth capacity.  An IMPORTANT fact to note is that these smaller vessels are not required to have advanced wastewater treatment systems.  Because of this, there are many areas where discharge is prohibited by regulation, such as critical habitat areas, newar salmon streams and in herring spawning areas.  HB 80 continues to apply these stringent requirements to these smaller vessels, including 5 state ferries.  Without HB 80, beginning in 2016, these small vessels will have to meet all water quality standards at point of discharge.  They will be unable to do so.

HB 80 also affects large passenger vessels with 250 or more lower berths.  The bill continues to require these vessels, if they desire to discharge in Alaska waters, to have the most advanced treatment technology available.  And that is what the large vessels have today.  After three years of study, the most recent Science Advisory Panel found that there are no newer technologies, at the present time, or on the horizon, that can effectively lower the already minimal levels of copper, zinc, nickel and ammonia achieved by this advanced technology without a mixing zone of dilution

Today, large passenger vessels, using advanced wastewater treatment systems, produce effluent that is generally of higher quality than is produced by land-based treatment systems.  What about these land-based systems? “Land-based treatment systems” refers to those are found in Alaska coastal communities…Anchorage, Juneau, Skagway, Homer.  Some land-based systems provide only primary treatment of wastewater and all land-based systems are allowed a mixing zone around the discharge area, in order to meet water quality standards. 

HB 80 will allow a mixing zone for the significantly cleaner wastewater discharged from large commercial vessels.  With a mixing zone the highest water standard is nearly instantaneously achieved when the vessel is underway at 6 knots or more.  For the (7) large commercial passenger vessels that were permitted to discharge while in port last year – they had to meet even more stringent permit limits than those who were required to discharge while underway, where mixing is enormous.

The intent of HB 80 is to apply a consistent environmental approach to all wastewater dischargers in Alaska - cruise ships, municipalities, fish processors and others.  DEC will continue to evaluate and issue permits for discharges allowed in Alaska waters. This consistent approach, allowing for a mixing zone for cruise ships, continues to protect Alaska's delicate marine environment.  

Alaska Dept of Fish & Game has stated that they do not have any fishery, harvest, or habitat conflict concerns with the allowed mixing zone enacted through HB 80.

Passage of HB 80 will not alter DEC’s mission or duty to protect Alaska waters.  Permits must be renewed every 5 years and the public has opportunity to review and comment every time. 

HB 80 does not lower water quality standards or limit DEC authority to consider new technologies as they become available.  HB 80 does not allow a “roll-back” of the high standards for effluent attained by the permitted large commercial passenger vessels required to use advance technology.  HB 80 does not eliminate the permitting or effluent monitoring requirements for these large vessels.  It definitely does not allow discharge of “untreated” or “partially treated” wastewater.

DEC will continue to address wastewater effluent using the best science available.  The standards will continue to be applied to treated wastewater whether it is coming from a municipal treatment plant, a fish processor, a cruise ship or any other permitted operator.

Just the facts, Mr. President.

I urge a yes vote on HB80.

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