Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Feeling Flushed

 


In January, 2014 in this space, we discussed the state’s interest in the levels of fecal coliform bacteria in Puget Sound, and the claim by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) that commercial vessel traffic is a large contributor to the perceived problem. We say “perceived” problem because Ecology doesn’t actually have any data to back up the claim that there is actually a problem.

Now Ecology has petitioned the EPA to make all of Puget Sound a “no discharge” zone (NDZ).

If the EPA grants Ecology the authority to impose an NDZ, the Type II marine sanitation devices (MSD) approved by the EPA and the Coast Guard will no longer be permitted, and you’ll have to store your waste in a holding tank until you can pump it out at one of the non-existent commercial pumpout stations in the area. Ecology says the cost to retrofit a commercial vessel with a holding tank ranges from “negligible to $161,000 per vessel.”

Ecology is asking a federal agency to create massive new and expensive regulation based solely on “feelings.” True, the EPA might decline the state’s petition- stranger things have happened.

If the EPA should grant the state’s request, all commercial vessels with a sanitation device (head) will be required to install holding tanks and pump out at the aforementioned non-existent facilities.

The petition claims, “While the current number and location of pumpouts are sufficient to meet the Clean Water Act criteria to designate all of Puget Sound a no-discharge zone for all vessels, it is recognized that additional pumpout infrastructure would add more utility for tug boats, small commercial passenger vessels and commercial fishing vessels.” This claim has no basis in fact. The table included in the petition shows exactly one pumpout facility for commercial craft, in Bellingham, and commercial operators say this facility isn’t actually suitable for commercial vessels.

In order to petition for a no-discharge zone, the state must certify that the waters included in the petition require greater environmental protection than the applicable federal standard. No such data currently exist.

Absent any data that the waters in question are actually threatened, the state has produced a “certificate of need” based on the desire of a group of bureaucrats, the Puget Sound Partnership, assembled by former Governor Christine Gregoire, who feel vessels should be prohibited from discharging treated waste.

Ecology claims the waste from MSDs doesn’t meet Washington State water quality standards for “primary contact recreation,” which leads one to believe tugboats are discharging in the community pool, when in reality the treated waste from Type II MSDs is discharged into deep water by a moving vessel, and dissipates immediately. This safe, effective method is the reason the Coast Guard and the federal government allow the practice.

While the lack of data and non-existence of the required facilities doesn’t seem to have kept Ecology from submitting its proposal, it shouldn’t pass the “smell test” at EPA. Our executive summary of the petition can be summed up in one word, which we can’t print here.

We hope the EPA treats this report with the contempt it deserves. The taxpayers of Washington State deserve better from their public servants, and the maritime companies that account for billions of dollars in trade through Puget Sound do as well.

The entire petition can be read at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1610020.html.

Chris can be reached at chris@pacmar.com

 
 

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