Ketchikan’s City Council doesn’t believe the cruise industry should be policing itself. That’s one message coming out of the council’s Tuesday meeting.
Some local officials are skeptical that an industry-backed bill currently making its way through the state legislature would serve the same function as the Ocean Ranger program.
Ocean Rangers are — or, were — Coast Guard-licensed marine engineers tasked with making sure that cruise ships follow wastewater rules while in state waters.
But Gov. Mike Dunleavy shut down the voter-approved program last year. He vetoed the program’s industry funding, and that effectively scrapped it for 2020 and beyond.
State officials have said that during the 12 years that the program existed, Ocean Rangers found hundreds of potential violations. But, just six of those were elevated to formal Notices of Violation from the state.
Ketchikan City Council member Mark Flora says that’s no coincidence.
“If there haven’t been a lot of egregious noted violations,” he said, “doesn’t that speak to the fact that it works?”
The governor has proposed replacing the onboard monitors with shore-based inspectors. Cruise lines would get a discount on the $5-per-passenger fee that funds the program if they install electronic systems to monitor the ships’ wastewater systems.
But Flora is skeptical.
“Isn’t this bill — this proposed bill — the industry saying ‘Don’t worry, we got it’?” he said.
Council member Sam Bergeron said he doesn’t love the prospect of cruise lines monitoring themselves.
“I think that if you have systems that can be manipulated and left up to industry, that we’re having a far less accurate and reliable representation of what’s truly going on,” he said. “For me, I want bodies on the ship.”
Ketchikan’s city manager has sent a letter asking the state to reinstate the Ocean Ranger program.