Watchdog group that ensures cruise ships don't pollute Alaska's waters might get the axe

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — An environmental watchdog program called Ocean Rangers might be eliminated by the Dunleavy administration.

It was created by a voter-approved ballot measure in 2006.

The program, which is paid for with passenger cruise ship fees, puts people on board cruise ships to look for signs of pollution that could impact Alaskan waters. $4 from the fee pays to embed engineers, many retired, on ships heading here.

Alaska is the only state with this kind of a program and it comes after environmental violations by cruise ships in U.S. and Alaska waters.

In 1999 Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., agreed to pay $18 million in criminal fines as part of a plea deal. The Dept. of Justice said pollutants like chemicals from photo processing equipment, dry cleaning shops and printing presses were dumped into U.S. harbors and coastal areas in several places including the Inside Passage of Alaska.

"When it became apparent that the industry was essentially running amok, we went to the state first and said 'We need to increase oversight of this industry,'" Gershon Cohen with the Alaska Clean Water Advocacy said.

Cohen says the program is paid for by cruise ship passengers as part of their fees.

"Here's a program that doesn't cost the state of Alaska and that is clearly making sure that our waters are protected," Cohen said.

An email asking for comment from the Dunleavy administration was not returned prior to publishing.

KTOO reports that the administration views it as red tape.

"Gov. Dunleavy has a sincere interest in reducing the regulatory footprint of state agencies and making it easier to do business throughout the state, including Southeast Alaska," said Jeff Rogers, the director for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Administrative Services to KTOO.

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