Trustee Council considers expanding Exxon Valdez spill boundary for restoration

Published: Nov. 30, 2020 at 7:04 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council is accepting public comment on four draft resolutions, including one to expand the spill area from its original boundaries to an ecosystem-based boundary to facilitate restoration and conservation.

The spill area boundary in the 1994 Restoration Plan contains only a portion of the Copper River Delta. Advocates for the expansion say including the entirety of the Copper River Delta in the spill area boundary can help the conservation of both Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta, while opponents say that too little has been restored in impacted communities to consider expanding the spill area.

“The restoration boundary, since it was set in 1994, I’ve always believed that it’s been a political one and not a true ecosystem approach boundary. Because everyone knows that these two sister watersheds — the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound — are related,” said Dune Lankard, the founder of Native Conservancy and a commercial and subsistence fisherman. “All the water that flows from the Copper River flows into Prince William Sound. All the fish that are born out in the Delta end up in Prince William Sound. They spend the majority of the first year of their life before they go on their world tour out in the sound.”

Lankard points to herring — one the species most negatively impacted by the spill which has not recovered — as an example of how expanding the spill boundary can help the impacted areas.

“We went from 200,000 tons down to less than 4,000 tons returning. There’s a wild run of herring on the Copper River Delta that should forever be protected. So once you protect those herring or they are able to recover and restore, then all of the species impacted by the Exxon Spill would also recover, including the people,” Lankard said. “I’m a shareholder of both Eyak Corporation and Chugach, as well as a tribal member of the Native Village of Eyak. All of us people have been impacted from that spill. All of us make a living in the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. And so when the spill happened and the water died, then a lot of people moved towards the Copper River Delta and relied heavily on that ecosystem to make ends meet. And so had that area not been pristine and preserved, we may not have made it as a community, as a fishing community.”

While Lankard views the resolution to expand the spill area as an opportunity to improve conservation, opponents argue that it could divert resources away from impacted communities.

“Chugach Alaska has been opposed to this notion of expanding the spill zone since 2010 when it was first being presented. We feel like the spill-impacted communities have still not been restored, there’s been minimal amounts of funding from the trust available to the communities, and until that happens, there shouldn’t be any consideration for expanding the spill zone,” Sheri Buretta, interim president and CEO of Chugach Alaska Corporation, said.

In addition to opposing expanding the spill area boundary, Buretta says CAC opposes each of the four draft resolutions currently open for public comment, including one that would eliminate the trustee council’s annual meeting and decrease opportunities for public input.

Buretta and other leaders have formed the EVOS Think Tank of Citizens to advance more significant changes to the EVOS Trust and restructure the Trustee Council.

“The think tank proposal just puts out a new idea about how these funds can be used for perpetuity to benefit the communities that were most affected by the spill,” Buretta said. “And it kinda takes the notion of funding pet projects from specific individuals to a process where communities that are still being affected by the spill that know what their communities need can have an opportunity to fund projects for social and economic recovery that was never addressed by the trustee council.”

Despite the larger reforms pushed by some of the current draft resolutions’ opponents, Lankard thinks the opposition to the proposal to expand the spill area boundary is misguided.

“The one thing that some people have questioned is whether by opening up this region, would it take resources away from the injured resources of the spill zone. One of the thoughts in this original restoration program that was created in 1992 was to preserve intact, thriving watersheds or regions that could be the equivalent of the resources that were impacted. So that basically means do no more harm. There are several development projects that are slated for the Copper River Delta that could be averted if we were able to have funding open up for the Copper River Delta,” Lankard said. “We have an opportunity to actually have a true restoration boundary that includes both watersheds. What we have in an opportunity to preserve the Delta and help restore the Sound. So we feel that the people that were impacted by the spill in Prince William Sound are the same people that would be impacted by preserving the Copper River Delta.”

Public comments on the draft resolutions are due Dec. 16.

Click here for more information and to submit comments.

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