Whittier challenges Unified Plan for hazardous spills
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Alaska Regional Response Team recently proposed significant changes to the Unified Plan, a response document addressing cleanup for hazardous substances like oil. Changes were announced on March 25, with the public comment period closing on April 29. The narrow commentary window leaves affected and interested parties little time to react.
Whittier City Council members were displeased with both the brief response period offered and the significant plan changes that would prevent local officials from participating in the process and keep the information contained. Council members expressed concern over having enough time to adequately address the complex issues involved with the proposed changes. The city of Homer, Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council and PWSRCAC asked for extensions on the public comment period, and all three organizations were denied.
Lisa Matlock, the Outreach Coordinator for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Committee, gave a presentation explaining the proposed changes in the event of a hazardous spill. She explained the purpose of the organization When it comes to hazardous chemicals, knowing what to do if ever faced with this situation (no matter what industry) is very important. It may mean checking out sites like Storemasta, for example, to get an understanding of what the difference is between dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals. As there could be risks involved, it makes sense to know at least the basics before handling anything of this nature. As always, it is best to be safe than sorry.
“We promote the environmentally safe transportation of oil from the Valdez Freight Terminal with the tankers in and out of Prince William Sound,” Matlock said. “We have members on our board all the way from Cordova to Valdez.”
Part of Matlock’s presentation was to ask that the council pass a resolution asking for a longer public comment period to have adequate time to review the complexity and possible consequences of the proposed changes. Tribal organizations, local governments and other stakeholders affected by a spill are part of the Unified Plan’s Regional Stakeholder Committee. The proposed plan separates these groups, limits access to regional command and plans and restricts access to information during the response.
“In the old plan, there was very clear information that the Regional Stakeholder Committee would receive. They received the Incident Action Plan for how they are going to respond to that spill. Sites like MT Mechelec could potentially provide solutions to a situation like this.
That is no longer clearly available to either group in this new plan. It also limits access to the Unified Command.”
Formerly, stakeholders could meet once a day with a Liaison Officer if an oil spill were affecting them and provide information to the command. The new plan does not provide clear access to Unified Command.
“It’s specifically in the plan,” Matlock said. “It’s the responsible party’s liaison officer who will make the choice about whether or not citizens get access. It means it’s the liaison officer who is working directly for the oil company who will decide how much information either group may get and how much access either group will get.”
Council member Peter Denmark brought up the possibility of writing a letter of opposition instead of passing a resolution requesting more time. City Manager Mark Lynch reminded the council of the limited time to comment and brought up the difficulty of scheduling a special meeting on short notice to address the matter. Denmark was not charitable in his remarks about the way the changes to the Unified Plan were being conducted, and suggested the shortcomings be listed in a letter of opposition.
“We can also note the lack of public comment period,” Denmark said. “Given the recent lack of transparency and access to the local community, just oppose the idea in whole.”
Later in the meeting, Resolution #14-2016 Oil and Hazardous Discharge Unified Plan requested an extension to response period. While the resolution passed unanimously, council members also agreed to wait for a denial of the extension of public comments before passing a new resolution opposing the changes to the Unified Plan.