Advisory council on oil impacts meets in Homer

The council aims to be a citizen voice for those affected by Prince William Sound’s oil industry

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council held one of their three annual meetings on Sept. 21-22 in Homer at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Each year they hold one meeting in Anchorage, one meeting in Valdez and the fall meeting is held in one of the additional representative communities.

The council aims to be a citizen voice for those affected by Prince William Sound’s oil industry, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Agency terminal and associated tankers, according the council’s website.

Council members represent Alaska communities and organizations that were affected by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, including environmental groups, Alaska Native communities and aquaculture, commercial fishing, recreation and tourism industries. Communities and interest groups from Prince William Sound to Kodiak Island to lower Cook Inlet are represented — “all areas that were touched by oil from the Exxon Valdez,” according to the council’s website.

Safety components addressed by the council include environmental monitoring, oil spill prevention planning, oil spill response operations, terminal operations and maritime operations.

The two-day board meeting open to the public included scientific reports from the Prince William Sound Science Center and staff reports from the council’s offices in Valdez and Anchorage. The board approved various contracts and resolutions, according to the final agenda provided at the meeting.

Alyeska provided terminal information and updates on safety concerns directly to the council. The advisory council received an Alyeska/ SERVS (ship escort response vessel system), a general activity report from Alyeska emergency preparedness and respond director Andres Morales, and an updated safety report from Klint Vanwingerden, Valdez Marine Terminal director. The ship escorts are the tugboats that guide tankers from the Valdez Marine Terminal to the Hinchinbrook Entrance of Prince William Sound. They also carry oil spill response equipment.

Advisory council president Robert Archibald and board member Bob Shavelson, in an interview with Homer News, said the citizen advisory council is in a unique position to ask questions of an entity such as the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

“We are in a unique position here because having an entity like the RCAC is unusual in the private interest corporate world of oil,” Shavelson said. “We represent the public interest, the voiceless and the environment. We understand that the private component focuses largely on profit; that’s not a bad thing.”

The advisory committee signed their contract with Alyeska in February 1990, which created a template to provide the power and authority to ask questions and get information from Alyeska.

For example, after a fire at the Alyeska terminal in 2022, the advisory council commissioned a review of safety practices at the terminal, according to Shavelson and Archibald.

In response, a 180-page report on the fire was provided to the council by Billie Garde with Clifford and Garde, LLP in April of 2023 that highlights several existing general safety concerns. The report is also available for public review through the council’s website.

Archibald and Shavelson said they are still waiting for additional actions to take place regarding recommendations in the Billie Garde report.

The next council meeting will take place in January 2024.