Cook Inletkeeper celebrates 20 years of accomplishments


wenty years ago, a group of concerned Alaskans decided enough was enough. They were fed-up with toxic pollution in Cook Inlet, so they brought Clean Water Act claims against the oil and gas corporations for more than 4,200 illegal dumping violations. And they won. 

Then, they formed Cook Inletkeeper as part of the settlement. Today, Inletkeeper celebrates our 20th anniversary, and we’re proud and humbled by the countless members and supporters who have made our work possible.  

Our mission then — and our mission now — is straightforward: to protect the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains. Behind everything we do is the basic notion that our land, our air and our water are public resources which provide us with the very elements of life, and while we have a right to use them responsibly, we have a corresponding obligation to protect them for current and future generations.

For us at Cook Inletkeeper, that means giving Alaskans the legal tools and information they need to protect their magnificent heritage; it means engaging in honest and strident activism that calls out corporate excess and promotes the public interest; and it means conducting the science needed to show how climate change and ocean acidification will destroy the things we hold dear if we don’t act soon.

In May, the Inletkeeper board and staff came together in Talkeetna for a board meeting and celebration in the Upper Cook Inlet watershed.  Now, we’re bringing our celebration to the Lower Inlet, with a 20th anniversary celebration at Alice’s Champagne Palace in Homer on Saturday, Dec. 5. We’ll have live music by Burnt Down House and the Robb Justice Band, great recitals from some amazing fisher poets, and a tribute to our friend and longtime supporter, Frank Mullen. Doors open at 7 p.m., and there’s no cover charge.

When a small group of concerned Alaskans came together in 1994 to form Cook Inletkeeper, the Exxon Valdez was an ugly, open wound. Today, Exxon Valdez oil still oozes from Alaska’s beaches, and Exxon remains a powerful corporate bully. But we’ve made great strides, and while there’s a tremendous amount more to do, it’s important to recognize our accomplishments.  

We started the state’s first citizen-based water quality monitoring program; we forced coalbed methane companies to give back nearly 400,000 acres in leases that threatened our drinking water and salmon streams; we pressed oil and gas corporations to reduce their leaks and spills by more than 90 percent in Cook Inlet fisheries; we played a lead role securing a tug vessel for oil tankers at the treacherous Nikiski docks; we protected more than  600,000 acres of prime beluga whale habitat from industrial development; we created the state’s first Clean Harbors Program; and we pioneered the science showing the effects of climate change on wild salmon.

After 20 years, we’ve driven more than $12 million into the Homer economy through jobs, contracts and partnerships, and with satellite offices in Soldotna, Anchorage and Talkeetna, we’re engaging and supporting communities around the Cook Inlet watershed too.

As I think about these past years, two things come to mind. First, Cook Inlet is a truly remarkable place; it represents everything we love about Alaska — from flowing glaciers and magnificent volcanoes, to vast wetlands and rich salmon, moose and bear habitat. 

But equally important, there’s a stronghold of passionate Alaskans here who give a damn; people who believe facts and science still matter, people who truly care about their families and their communities, people who know business-as-usual is a failed path to our collective future.

The challenges ahead are enormous.  And we’ll only overcome them if we move beyond politics and act together around the things we love. So thank you for your support over the years, and I hope you will join us Dec. 5 at Alice’s Champagne Palace to celebrate our community.

Bob Shavelson is Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper, a group of Alaskans working in the public interest for clean water, healthy salmon and a vibrant democracy in the Cook Inlet watershed.  Cook Inletkeeper celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.