The Alaska Senate voted 16-2 Friday to cut a break in the state’s environmental regulations for small cruise ships and the Alaska Marine Highway.
Senate Bill 3, brought forward by Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, renews an exemption in the state’s wastewater rules for cruise ships with fewer than 250 passenger beds. Five of the state’s ferries fall into that category, and according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, 10 cruise ships visiting Alaska in 2016 fall into that category as well.
The exemption does not remove all restrictions on the ships — rather, they must follow unique disposal plans approved on a case-by-case basis rather than follow the rules applied to ships with more than 250 beds.
“There is no decrease or reduction for current standards or requirements,” Stedman said on the floor.
The small-ship exemption expired in 2016, and without its renewal, those 15 ships would have had to install new wastewater equipment. According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, retrofitting the state’s ferries would cost millions of dollars, and Stedman said it might not be possible for some of the ferries at all, due to balance and stability issues.
SB 3 also exempts the two Alaska-class ferries under construction in Ketchikan from the state’s 1 percent for art rule that requires 1 percent of public projects’ budgets to be spent on art decorating that project.
According to DOT, the exemption will save the state millions of dollars. Art aboard two ferries earmarked for sale will be transferred to the Alaska-class ferries instead.
The Tustumena-class ship being planned by the state is also covered by the exemption.
SB 3 advances to the House for consideration.
Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage voted against the bill. Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, and Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, were absent.
Bills on the move:
• On Wednesday night after two hours of public testimony, the House Resources Committee approved a bill establishing the Jonesville Public Use Area near Sutton. House Bill 6, sponsored by Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, advances to the House Finance Committee.
• The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. The bill, which heads to the House floor for consideration, would require employers to give time off to members of the National Guard, even if they’re enlisted in another state.
• After extended public testimony, the House Finance Committee approved House Bill 23, sponsored by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. The bill, which advances to the House floor for a vote, dates to last year’s extended special sessions. If signed into law, it would pay medical insurance premiums for the spouses and children of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty. The Department of Public Safety will manage a survivors’ fund to pay for the benefit.
• The Senate Transportation Committee approved two bills on Thursday. Senate Bill 33, introduced by Gov. Bill Walker, officially names the two new Alaska-class ferries the Tazlina and Hubbard. Senate Bill 46, sponsored by Wilson, declares Oct. 25 is African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day. SB 33 heads to the full Senate for a vote; SB 46 is bound for the Senate State Affairs Committee.
• House Joint Resolution 5, a letter in support of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, passed out of the Senate’s special committee on the Arctic with amendments on Friday. HJR 5 has no binding authority — ANWR drilling must be approved by Congress — but is considered a statement of Alaskan intent. HJR 5 advances to the full Senate for a vote.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-7732.