The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council has been recertified by the U.S. Coast Guard. The formality allows the quasi-governmental watchdog group to continue monitoring environmental effects of the inlet's oil industry.
This year's approval went smoothly, in contrast to the process two years ago, when the Homer-based environmental group Cook Inlet Keeper challenged the recertification and the Coast Guard recommended an audit of CIRCAC's internal policy controls.
This year there was no problem at all, said CIRCAC spokesperson Joe Gallagher.
"The recertification was without recommendation or qualification," he said.
Rear Adm. T.J. Barrett, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, sent a letter Jan. 2 to CIRCAC Executive Director James Carter approving the recertification. In the letter, the admiral reported that all comments received during the process supported CIRCAC.
One of the letters endorsing recertification this time came from Cook Inlet Keeper, which pleased the CIRCAC people, Gallagher said.
The only glitch was that the old certification had expired Sept. 30, and the new one was not issued until Jan. 2. Gallagher attributed the delay to backlogs at the Coast Guard.
"It seems to take longer in the bureaucratic process than anyone would like," he said.
The Cook Inlet RCAC formed in 1991 under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, set in place after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Along with the RCAC for Prince William Sound, it is supposed to serve as a model for citizen groups monitoring industry activity. The U.S. Coast Guard oversees its activities in an annual certification review.
The CIRCAC's formal mission is to ensure the safe operations of the oil industry in Cook Inlet to minimize the industry's environmental impacts.
Part of the annual review recapped the council's activities over the past year. According to the council's newsletter, these included:
n Facilitating a forum on the safety of navigation in Cook Inlet;
n Collecting oceanography data and co-sponsoring a workshop on the findings;
n Co-sponsoring a workshop on the risks of oil spills in icy arctic regions;
n Starting geographic response strategies -- detailed, localized plans -- in case of oil spills in central Cook Inlet;
n Setting up a Web site with information on the council;
n Installing remote cameras on the Nikiski dock to monitor sea ice; and
n Starting a new program to monitor the health of inlet beaches.
During 2001, as CIRCAC marks its 10th anniversary, the group has several changes and projects planned:
n The Prevention, Response, Operations and Safety Committee is under the new management of Mike Munger, who formerly worked with the Alaska Depart-ment of Environmental Conser-vation. Munger replaces Rory Dabney, who now works with Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc.
n The council will set up geographic response strategies for Kachemak Bay. Gallagher described it as a major undertaking with extensive citizen involvement anticipated.
n Beach studies from last year will continue, with a focus on analyzing the extensive samples collected last summer, said CIRCAC science coordinator Susan Saupe.
n CIRCAC, in partnership with the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, will document the inlet's shoreline with low-altitude aerial photographs. The digital photos will be used in databases and analyses of sites, Saupe said.
CIRCAC's new certification will remain in effect through Aug. 31.
The RCACs for Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound have recommended to the Coast Guard that the recertification process be streamlined. Under the proposal, the annual recertification would require a letter of request and report of changes, with a full review, including public comment, scheduled every third year.
The proposed change was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28 and is open for public comment until Feb. 12.
Gallagher said the RCACs now are established and successful enough that the exhaustive annual reporting under current rules is unnecessary.
"It becomes redundant," he said. "Things don't really change that much."
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