Ban on cruise ship discharges proposed for Washington waters

Mar 19, 2012

Cruise ships are big business for the Port of Seattle.

Last season, about 200 calls brought nearly 900,000 passengers and their wallets though the city. Projections for this season are about the same. Each call equates to about $1.9 million in local spending.

But that economic benefit comes with ecological risk.

Now the state’s Department of Ecology is backing a proposed ban on cruise ship discharges while the vessels are in Washington waters.

Eight years ago, after a cruise liner dumped 40 tons of sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the industry and the state department of ecology signed a “memorandum of understanding. ”

Cruise operators agreed to use advanced wastewater treatment systems or not discharge any waste in Washington.

But, environmentalists say it’s too lax.

Fred Felleman is with Friends of the Earth. 

“We have an agreement that was a good standard. But, it included things like being able to discharge while the vessel is even sitting at the dock,” Felleman says.

Felleman’s group is one of four non-profits asking the parties to the agreement to amend it and ban all discharges of waste in Washington. They say the geography of Puget Sound, which can trap waste like a big tub, makes it too delicate to put at risk.

“Over 1800 citizens in the state of Washington wrote letters in support of our joint proposal. It’s very rare that we get such a vociferous response so quickly.”

They submitted those comments to the state Department of Ecology. The agency’s Kevin Fitzpatrick says the proposal is in line with the governor’s initiative to restore Puget Sound. And since most ships only berth here for 24 hours or less, it’s reasonable.

“In many cases it’s happening already," Fitzpatrick says.  "And we’re looking at it from our mission to protect water quality and the state’s environment. We think it’s a feasible and sensible thing to do.”

Now that Ecology has officially signed on, Port of Seattle Commissioners will take up the issue at a hearing, on March 27th.  Then the Cruise Association must weigh in. Only a unanimous decision can change their Memorandum of Understanding.