Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council adds board seat for recreational interests

Homer resident Jim Herbert, with ten year involvement in the RCAC, seated in the position

*The name Emma ‘Polon’ has been corrected to ‘Pokon’

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council held a board of directors meeting Jan. 25-26 in Anchorage.

The board meets three times annually with one meeting in Anchorage, one in Valdez and one in a community of a representative board member. Board President Robert Archibald from Homer noted that one of key events from the January meeting was the reinstatement of a voting board seat for a member representing recreation interests.

According to a press release from the advisory council, the board unanimously approved adding the Oil Spill Region Recreational Coalition to its roster of voting entities. The coalition is composed with three groups: the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation located in Girdwood, the Valdez Adventure Alliance, and the Friends of the Kachemak Bay State Park. Jim Herbert of Homer was seated as the coalition’s representative.

According to Archibald, Herbert held the temporary representative recreation seat for the board for several months and has had substantial previous experience with the board. Herbert is currently the chair of the advisory council’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Committee and has also served on the board of directors as a representative for the City of Seward from 2013 to 2015.

Several years ago, a voting recreation seat was a part of the board but the former recreation entity that held the seat disbanded and it was difficult to find a person to fill the position, Herbert said. However, the advisory council is certified by the U.S. Coast Guard annually and they recently questioned why that seat was not filled and encouraged the board to reinstitute it, according to Herbert.

According to a flyer provided by the advisory council, other features of the meeting included a report from the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, a report on plans from the Alaska Tanker Company for fleet upgrades, a proposed update for Alyeska’s spill contingency plan for the Valdez Marine Terminal that is now under review by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and a conversation with Commissioner-designee Emma Pokon with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The 2022-2023 Long-Term Environmental Monitoring Report was accepted. This program has been collecting data about the region impacted by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill for 30 years.

In November 2023, Prince William Sound was designated as a Mission Blue “Hope Spot.” Dr. Charla Hughes with the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation spoke with the board about the award. According to the Mission Blue website, there are 159 international “Hope Spots” that “are special places, scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean.” More specifically, they are places with a special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems, the presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors or spawning ground and places with significant historical, cultural or spiritual values.”

Finally, the board received information on plans for a new oil spill response facility that the Native Village of Eyak is building in Cordova called the Shepard Point Marine Tribal Transportation Oil Spill and Marine Casualty Response Facility and how that facility will serve Prince William Sound and the larger Gulf of Alaska. According to highlight notes, the Native Village of Eyak was awarded funding through a federal grant last year to begin the project. Final construction of the facility is pending receipt of additional funding.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough representative for the board is Mako Haggerty, also from Homer.

The next Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council meeting will be held in Valdez in May. The Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council will meet in April.

Archibald also noted that on Monday board members received an email reminding them that Thursday, Feb. 8 marks the 34th anniversary of the signing of the contract between the Council and Alyeska.

Herbert also noted the age of the organization and mentioned that one important detail that motivates his continued involvement in the organization is advocating for new and younger participants. Many of the people who serve on the board currently wanted to engage because “they were victims of the 1989 oil spill when people in their thirties and forties might not even remember it,” he said. He also noted that the safe transportation of oil for a pristine environment for the purpose of recreation is an important factor and that although recreation within the Sound itself is critical, the outer coast is valuable too and it’s important to recognize the remote features between Seward, Homer and Kodiak that might get less attention than the inside waters and actual tanker passageways.