Letter from environmental groups unfair to CIRCAC

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003

I want to address some thoughts on the recent letter of the Cook Inlet environmental community to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, as I am the contractor that is referenced in that letter. I live near Seldovia where I operate a small environmental consulting firm.

I have been involved as a volunteer and professional with both the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council and the Cook Inlet Keeper organizations since their inception. I lobbied for the formation of the regional citizens advisory councils and I participated in the committee that founded the Cook Inlet Keeper.

I have also served on the board of directors of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council and the Cook Inlet Keeper. I know and respect most of the staff and board members of both organizations.

Many folks don't realize that the goals of the two organizations are very similar. Actually, both of the organizations are supposed to represent us, the citizens of Cook Inlet. It is difficult to understand why the two organizations are often at odds. Is there a good reason that the environmental community has, at lease twice now, petitioned the Coast Guard to investigate or decertify the council?

Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council is controlled by a board of 13 directors, appointed by the Kodiak Island and Kenai Peninsula boroughs; cities of Kodiak, Seldovia, Homer, Kenai and Anchorage; and coalitions representing Alaska Natives, commercial fisherman, aquaculture, tourism, recreational and environmental interests.

It is by design an organization that represents the people who are at risk of being impacted by crude oil production and transportation in Cook Inlet. Its $1 million annual budget also makes it one of the best-funded non-profit organizations in the region.

The congressional act that created the regional citizens advisory councils has been called a "noble experiment" because nowhere else in the United States does an industry have to fund and then listen to the advice of the citizens of the region. Congress has given us a unique opportunity to oversee the oil production and transportation industry and protect Cook Inlet waters. Those of us who value those waters don't want to see that opportunity wasted.

By writing its letter to the Coast Guard and publicizing it widely to the media, the environmental community has become adversarial to the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Council. This act can only serve to further alienate the two organizations and distract both of them from their missions. Both organizations may lose funding because of this letter. It certainly precludes them from working together toward their common goals anytime in the near future.

While I value my friends in the environmental community, this letter seems to me to be a senseless aggressive act designed to create controversy. This action has caused tremendous harm to the mission of protecting Cook Inlet from adverse impacts. It has diverted staff time from necessary work and damaged the potential to collaborate with other organizations.

Every organization has its problems. In the case of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advi-sory Council the board of directors and member organizations have the responsibility to be aware of and fix any problems that may arise. Ultimately, the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council is accountable to the citizens of the region. So if we don't like the way the council is behaving, we can get involved.

Everyone should be sure that his or her city council, assembly or interest group has put a board member on the council that is representing the member organization's interests. Isn't it more appropriate to be accountable to the citizens of the region than to the Coast Guard? After all, if the regional citizens advisory council is not accountable to the citizens then it is a failure.

On the other hand, who will hold the authors of this letter accountable for their act of aggression in creating this controversy? The Cook Inlet Keeper's board, like most other environmental groups, is self-selecting from willing volunteers. I know of no other way to hold them accountable than to withhold my donations and volunteer time and give my opinion.

My opinion is that this attack by letter and accusation in the press is wrong and unfair to Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. It is unfair to Mr. Carter, the council's staff and volunteers and to me. I hope that the authors of the letter will be held accountable and dismissed by their boards.

Tim L. Robertson, Seldovia

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