On Feb. 19, Washington state released a draft petition to establish a no discharge zone (NDZ) for Puget Sound from the Canadian border to the southern end of the Sound. Following the notice, the public has a 60-day comment period to weigh in on the proposal. The deadline is April 21. 

If the petition from the state’s Department of Ecology is submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency at that time (the marine industry would like an extension of the comment period), the EPA will review the petition and make a final determination. The likelihood that EPA will turn thumbs down is very slim, judging from its history.

If Puget Sound were to become a NDZ, all recreational and commercial vessels operating in Puget Sound would be affected. All Type 2 MSDs, which treat onboard sewage before discharging, would have to be replaced with Type 3 holding tanks. 

Charlie Costanzo, the American Waterways Operator’s vice president for the Pacific region, said this conversion would put many commercial boats out of business. “From engineering to drydocking and installation of a holding tank, or even sponsons, this could cost a boat owner over $125,000,” he said. “The changes could even affect vessel tonnage and classification certification.”

Costanzo added that the Department of Ecology doesn’t have any studies to support the need for an NDZ. “The areas of concern for sewage in the Sound aren’t where our boats operate. We’re not the problem.” Another issue is the lack of pump-out facilities for larger, deeper-draft vessels. Most Puget Sound pump-out stations are located at recreational marinas. 

Members of AWO have approached the state with attempts to compromise by promising to stay out of critical areas such as near shellfish farms and to adopt newer, cleaner technology as available for onboard waste treatment.

To download a copy of the proposal and to comment on the draft petition, go to the Washington Department of Ecology website: www.ecy.wa.gov. 

— Bruce Buls