By Michael Munger
Your March 18 article (Exxon Valdez taught lesson that prevention is key), compels us to respond for its failure to highlight the improvements in Cook Inlet oil spill prevention and preparedness since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and to set the record straight about our organization.
Although the article did a good job of highlighting successes in Prince William Sound, it shortchanged your readers by failing to recognize that many of the same successes you underscored for Prince William Sound also exist in Cook Inlet.
For example, we too have a fishing vessel response program, with many of the same local vessels utilized in Prince William Sound. We also have a very robust oil spill drill and strong contingency planning program. In fact, Cook Inlet RCAC is often the only public voice reviewing and commenting on these critically important plans and has to review a much higher number than Prince William Sound. We operate under the same strict regulations for response planning standards for meeting specific volumes of oil within a given time.
Cook Inlet RCAC has been at the forefront of several statewide initiatives that grew from the visions of our board, committees and staff. We were the first to develop Geographic Response Strategies, the first to develop a list of places of refuge for stricken vessels, the first to recognize the value of a coastal habitat mapping and imaging database for improving shoreline protections, the first to develop the only ice-camera network for improved prevention and the first to conduct a comprehensive navigational risk assessment for the Cook Inlet region.
What many people do not realize is that the RCACs were founded – in part – as a mechanism that should foster the “long-term partnership of industry, government and local communities” in overseeing compliance and environmental concerns in crude oil terminal operations. Many of those statewide initiatives or most successful improvements in marine safety and reduction in oil spills are a result of these partnership efforts. Unfortunately, there are some that consider anything less than a 100 percent adversarial relationship on all issues with industry and agencies to be a failure of the organization.
The Tribune references two opinions as examples that Cook Inlet RCAC is failing to “satisfy what many would see as the edicts of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990” — based on the 2006 grounding of the tank vessel Seabulk Pride and the 2009 Mt. Redoubt eruption/Drift River Terminal incident.
In each of these events, Cook Inlet RCAC played a major role. After the Seabulk Pride grounding, Cook Inlet RCAC immediately convened a Safety of Navigation Forum with mariners and responders involved in the incident to identify specific steps to reduce future risks.
This action has ultimately led to numerous long-term initiatives, such as the immediate placement of a dedicated docking assist tug. In fact, the Tug Bob Franco, currently in use, was designed and built specifically for Cook Inlet’s harsh winter environment, capable of towing and rescue. Another long-term outcome is the first comprehensive navigational risk assessment for Cook Inlet.
During the Drift River incident, we applied our expertise and extensive data in evaluating risks based on multiple response scenarios. We assembled a team to deploy high-frequency radars to map surface currents in the vicinity of Drift River. Our public meetings and our own observations led us to support a subsea pipeline as the best long-term solution for safely transporting oil from Cook Inlet’s West side to East side facilities. We are confident that our efforts have given Cook Inlet an enduring legacy of safety and stronger prevention measures that will only continue to improve.
Let’s set the record straight. As per our founding legislation, our board is diverse, representing seven area cities and boroughs, as well as special interest groups: environmental, recreation, aquaculture, commercial fishing, Alaska Native, and state chamber of commerce. It is the communities and organizations in our region that select individuals to serve their interests on the Cook Inlet RCAC board of directors. As anybody who lives in the Cook Inlet region knows, these groups will not always agree on all issues, but the diversity of representation ensures that a range of opinions are heard. To be clear, the Cook Inlet RCAC board has never removed a director for expressing an opinion.
Finally, we invite everyone to visit our website www.circac.org, particularly our 20th anniversary annual report of milestones, to see for themselves the depth and breadth of our work on behalf of Cook Inlet.
Michael Munger is the Executive Director of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.
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