By Leigh Armstrong
The Skagway borough assembly May 2 approved a resolution in support of continued state funding for Ocean Rangers aboard cruise ships.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed entirely eliminating funding for the program of onboard inspectors, which was created by a citizens initiative in 2006.
The House version of the operating budget does not restore the funds, but the Senate bill does. Conference committee members from the two chambers started meeting this week to resolve the many differences between their two versions of the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Legislators face a constitutional adjournment deadline of May 15.
Even if lawmakers agree to fund the Ocean Rangers for next year, the governor could veto the appropriation, requiring the Legislature to gather a three-quarters majority vote (45 of 60 members) to override a veto.
The Ocean Rangers are funded through a $4 fee on each cruise ship passenger, which the companies collect and turn over to the state, totaling about $4 million annually.
“(The Ocean Rangers) are not a direct expense to the state or the municipality,” assemblymember Steve Burnham said. “I think supporting the program, as it is, is a better direction.”
The Ocean Rangers are key to keeping Skagway’s waterways clean, said assemblymember Tim Cochran, referencing past incidents by cruise ships in Alaska waters. In 2018, a Carnival Corp. cruise ship illegally dumped gray water in Glacier Bay.
“Any deterrent to any bad behavior on cruise lines would go a long ways,” Cochran said.
Ocean Rangers are required to be certified by the Coast Guard as a marine engineer or hold a degree in marine engineering.
State law requires that overnight cruise ships in Alaska with room for more than 250 passengers must have an Ocean Ranger on board during a portion of the trip or performing a port inspection.