The Grand Princess cruise ship sails in Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska, in this May 30, 2018, file photo. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

The Grand Princess cruise ship sails in Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska, in this May 30, 2018, file photo. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Alaska Voices: Cruise ships need Ocean Rangers on deck

We all care about protecting our beautiful state and its resources

  • Tuesday, March 8, 2022 11:38pm
  • Opinion

By Karen and Mark Severson

If you are a commercial fishermen like we are, or just an Alaskan who enjoys being on the water for sport or subsistence you assume we all care about protecting our beautiful state and its resources for generations to come.

Jason Brune, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, wants to remove the Ocean Ranger Program. The governor has been trying to eliminate this program since 2019. Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Commissioner Brune have stated they consider the program targeting the cruise industry as inappropriate and offensive.

The Ocean Ranger Program was approved by voters in 2006 and is still law. The program is self funded with a $4 per berth fee from cruise passengers. The Ocean Rangers are highly trained individuals who serve as watchdogs on the ships monitor for many violations: wastewater, oily discharges, sanitation, plastics, safety and air pollution from the exhaust scrubbers. These ships and crews cannot be watched 24/7 by anyone on the beach. One Ocean Ranger told me recently 263 noncompliant reports were filed in 2019.

We have been told that electronic monitoring of overboard discharge valves is not a viable option. Many of the vessels are too old for this new equipment, and although others could have it, there is no way to determine what is actually being discharged in the dead of night. Brune has suggested FaceTime calls as a means of monitoring as well, however, remote areas such as Glacier Bay and Skagway have sparse coverage. We have seen reports and video of discharge violations in pristine bays and glaciers, that were only self reported by the ships when caught.

Right now, the governor has proposed SB 180 and HB 303 with complicated wording but with the goal of getting rid of the Ocean Ranger program. If these bills pass this globally praised program will be off the books most likely never to be returned.

The Dunleavy administration is promoting the use of the passenger funds collected for the Ocean Ranger program to assist Southeast communities in upgrades to their wastewater facilities. This goes entirely against the intent of the creation of the Ocean Ranger Program and related laws. Further, community wastewater upgrades are huge capital projects that funds diverted from the Ocean Ranger program would not even begin to cover.

I urge all concerned Alaskans to contact your legislators as soon as possible and let them know you are in support of the Alaska Ranger program and ask that they reinstate the funding for fiscal year 2023 and onward. We need their knowledgeable eyes and ears on all of the large cruise ships that are here as visitors to the “Great 49th” — as referred to by the Ocean Rangers we have talked to. They care deeply about our amazing state and are sounding the alarm bells.

Alaska is a beautiful place to call home, and we must do everything we can to protect it.

So please contact your legislators today before these are bills are passed. Send them your pictures or stories of cruise ship pollution you may have witnessed.

We can welcome tourism back, but insist the cruise industry is held accountable for their actions.

Karen and Mark Severson reside in Petersburg. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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