Port, ships OK sewage pact - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Under an agreement with the Canaveral Port Authority, Port Canaverals two gambling ships will discharge sewage eight miles offshore, instead of four miles out, to address concerns the vessels may be polluting the local surf.

The Port Authoritys five commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the agreement.

Ralph Haben, a lawyer representing Sterling Casino Lines and SunCruz Casinos, said the two companies will discharge their sewage, called "black water," farther out to sea to be "good corporate citizens" and to please the Port Authority. He said Sterling and SunCruz are not doing it because there is evidence their ships are responsible for polluting the surf.

Haben said both gambling ships treat their "black water" in holding tanks before releasing it into the Atlantic Ocean. He said discharging it twice as far out to sea should reduce any chances that some of it could wash ashore.

"Were not doing it as a result of any test being made," Haben said. "Were not responding to an environmental problem. But we understand that perception becomes reality."

In 2000, Sterling reported its ship produces 2,800 gallons a day of "black water," which typically comes from toilets, and 4,200 gallons a day of "gray water," which typically comes from sinks, said Jeannie Adame, the Port Authoritys director of environmental plans and programs.

Last year, SunCruz reported its ship produces 1,000 gallons a day of "black water" and 3,400 gallons a day of "gray water," Adame said.

The two casino ships draw roughly 1 million passengers a year, operating two offshore gambling excursions a day, each lasting five to six hours.

Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Stan Payne said he worked on the agreement with Sterling and SunCruz because "some people believed they were breaking the law" by discharging within four miles offshore.

Payne said the gambling ships have complied with wastewater-discharge laws, but he wanted to double the discharge distance to eight miles to address "the public perception" that the gambling ships were polluting local waters.

"The NOAA study said (the ships) were in compliance with the law and the quantities (of sewage) generated was insignificant," Payne said. He was referring to a report released in January by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Among the reports findings:

Water tests were insufficient to support claims that "nutrient" levels in the local surf were elevated from sewage.

The nitrogen in seaweed and water tests were not enough to determine whether there was a significant sewage pollution problem in Brevard. Nitrogen indicates the presence of sewage.

The study also found the ports two gambling vessels discharge 26,600 gallons of "black water" offshore in a week.

Brevard County and the Port Authority split the cost of the $100,000 study. Officials wanted to know whether deep injection wells, septic tanks, canals and cruise ships have been generating unhealthy levels of sewage in the local surf.

Such question arose after the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce did a series of local water-quality tests in 2003. The tests revealed what scientists said were unmistakable signs of human waste in the surf.

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