Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Speak Out or Line Up



In 2014 the State of Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) hatched a scheme to petition the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a no-discharge zone in Puget Sound, which would prohibit the use of USCG-approved types 1 and 2 marine sanitation devices. The actual, stated reasons given by the State Department of Ecology (DOE) amount to the following:

Other states have NDZs.

It is technically feasible.

It feels right.

The DOE further explained that the US Coast Guard can’t be trusted to adequately perform vessel sewage regulation and enforcement.

At the time, DOE claimed Puget Sound was awash in fecal coliform and other nasty stuff, but had no data to back up their assertions. Without data, DOE could only rely on an impression, and therefore filed a petition based on feelings (emphasis ours):

“Even though vessel sewage discharges may account for only a small portion of the total pollutant mass load entering Puget Sound, their impacts may be disproportionally large.”

In its petition to the EPA, DOE noted that recreational vessels to be affected by the new regulation numbered 153,103. By comparison, commercial vessels affected amounted to only 678, with only half of these being commercial fishing boats.

Nevertheless, and ignoring the complete lack of scientific data to warrant such a draconian measure, on November 7th, EPA Region 10 administrator Dennis McLerran determined Puget Sound’s pump-out facilities to be adequate and issued a “preliminary affirmative determination” in the Federal Register that removing USCG-approved marine sanitation devices from Puget sound was warranted.

We question whether Mr. McLerran’s professional training as an attorney and bureaucrat qualifies him to determine the economic feasibility of installing sewage holding tanks in the region’s 678 commercial vessels, nor do we believe he is competent to determine adequate shoreside capacity to empty these newly-installed holding tanks. Nevertheless, McLerran announced that commercial pumpout capacity is sufficient to justify his affirmative determination.

The state DOE has identified exactly 16 existing pumpout facilities to serve these 678 commercial vessels, of which eight are Washington State Ferry terminals, three serve the US Navy, one serves the correctional facility on McNeil Island and one serves the Alaska Marine Highway system.

Of the three whose public use does not pose a security threat to the nation’s waterborne infrastructure or national defense, two are in Bellingham. This makes two public stations in Bellingham and one private pumpout facility, on Seattle’s waterfront, to serve what the state has determined is 678 commercial vessels. That promises to be a long line.

The matter of a Puget Sound NDZ is a radical, expensive and intrusive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Even the DOE cannot substantiate the need. It’s troubling that Director McLerran finds it appropriate to promote the state’s fantasy at the expense of the industry he regulates, and we encourage our readers to make their feelings known to their elected representatives, as well as the EPA.

Submit your comments to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the online instructions for submitting comments. Affected parties now have until December 7th to comment.

EPA director McLerran and the Washington Department of Ecology are public servants. Remind them.


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