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Carter stepingdown as head of CIRCAC

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

Jim Carter, executive director of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council for the past four and a half years, is retiring and will leave the organization he helped create.

CIRCAC Operations Director Mike Munger has been tapped to replace him as head of the agency established 13 years ago by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to represent Cook Inlet citizens in promoting safe oil transportation and

production.

Congress passed OPA 90 in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The law also established the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

Carter was the CIRCAC's first president back in 1990 and helped write its bylaws and constitution, bringing to that job organizational experience he'd gleaned from a 32-year career with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After leaving CIRCAC, Carter worked for a short while as special assistant to Kenai Penin-sula Borough Mayor Don Gilman. He helped create and became the first executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District.

He served on the Alaska Public Utility Commission (now the Alaska Regulatory Commission) under Gov. Wally Hickel focusing primarily on oil and gas issues. Other accomplishments include spending 14 years as commander of the Alaska Civil Air Patrol.

Hired in July 1998 to serve as CIRCAC's temporary director for six months, Carter remained for four and a half years.

Steve Howell, CIRCAC's outreach coordinator, said the CIRCAC board of directors had "vested in Carter a broad range of authority and responsibility with the intent of improving the visibility of the organization and increasing funding."

Carter's major accomplishment was seeking funding and developing a budget of more than $1 million in 2002. It was the first time the organization's budget had topped the million-dollar mark, Howell said.

Carter said creating the public outreach position was among the council's top priorities when he took over as executive director in 1998.

"My challenge was to go to the oil industry, which funds us, for an increase in their annual funding to set up such a position," Carter said. "They saw the advantage of that and they did contribute."

Former KBBI news reporter Joe Gallagher, now in public relations at Homer Electric Association, was the first CIRCAC outreach coordinator. Howell now holds that position.

Carter said he also was asked to raise CIRCAC employee salaries to a more equitable level, which he accomplished by getting the oil industry to chip in more funds.

"Beyond that, there was developing a more obvious partnership with industry," Carter said.

"I think a lot of people think we are watchdog, but Congress didn't put that in the law. They did say to partner with industry representing public views. We have been successful at doing that."

Raising funds for CIRCAC is a continuous process, Carter said. Being able to push the agency's budget above $1 million in 2002 was largely due to contributions from the Kenai Peninsula Borough amounting to $250,000 in fiscal year 2002 and $210,000 in the current borough fiscal year, he said.

Much of the money is used to do scientific work, including a habitat monitoring program, as well as funding the Prevention, Response, Operations and Safety Program and the outreach program.

Those programs, in turn, helped generate a lot of interest from other organizations that now partner with CIRCAC, Carter said, including such agencies as the U.S. Park Service, the Minerals Management Service and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Office.

When the Environmental Protection Agency gave the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation an $850,000 grant to do environmental mapping, CIRCAC provided the expertise.

CIRCAC has no regulatory authority. Its mandate is to advise, recommend and monitor the industry, Carter said.

In his estimation, CIRCAC has done that fairly well. It has successfully met the U.S. Coast Guard's annual re-certification requirements and gotten support from the industry.

He rated CIRCAC's ability to influence policy as high. State regulations, for instance, include CIRCAC as a reviewer of industry spill contingency plans.

"I feel we have gained the reputation of being a player, while also following the mandates that were established," he said.

Carter said CIRCAC must continue working closely with the oil industry, the Coast Guard and DEC.

Among the projects that need attention is updating CIRCAC's long-range plan, he said.

He also said he would like to see a small amendment to OPA 90 that would attach additional funding to annual letters of support from Alaska's governor. Such letters have always been there in the annual Coast Guard certification review. If extra federal funding is forthcoming, it would likely be spread throughout the budget into scientific and operational activities, Carter said.

CIRCAC "has grown and plays a vital role in communities from Anchorage to Kodiak up and down the stretch of Cook Inlet," Carter said.

"We are fortunate to have had some great people volunteer for the council and its committees. We have been blessed with a capable staff, (that) is extremely devoted to the work of CIRCAC."

Asked what he hoped to do after retirement, Carter laughed.

"This is the fourth time I've retired," he said. "I'm getting to be an old man. It's time to get on the golf course. I've had a great time in Alaska over the last 55 years."

Munger's elevation to executive director marks the first time in CIRCAC's history that the board has promoted someone from within the organization to the top position, Carter said.

"He has a great background in the environmental community having been with the DEC," Carter said.

Munger worked for DEC for a little more than10 years. Prior to that, he worked in the oil industry from Cook Inlet to the North Slope.

He was the environmental project manager for Alaska Technical Services in the 1980s.

Munger has been with CIRCAC for about two years and called it a wonderful place to work. He said he is looking forward to his new responsibilities.

But Carter may be a hard act to follow, he said.

"Filling the shoes of Mr. Carter, considering the void he's leaving, will be a challenge," Munger said.

Like Carter, he praised the dedication of the staff. Working at CIRCAC, he said, makes him feel as if he has a mission.

"I've never worked in a place that made me feel like that," he said.



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