Sound advisory council president resigns

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Longtime Valdez activist Stan Stephens has resigned as president of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council to protest the group's demand for an apology from the Coast Guard.

The council is a public oil-industry watchdog organization created in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Stephens said Wednesday that the council was ''very arrogant'' in demanding an apology from the Coast Guard after an officer accused the council's director of misspending travel funds.

Instead, Stephens said, the council should do a better job of managing its money, spending less on administration and more on projects to improve and safeguard Prince William Sound.

Stephens, operator of Prince William Sound Cruises and Tours, had been president for more than 11 years, since the agency's creation.

The board's decision last week to send a letter to the Coast Guard demanding an apology was the last straw, he said.

''It just went all against my grain,'' Stephens said. ''I had accepted the position of president so I had to sign (the letter) for the majority of the board but I just couldn't live with myself after that.''

The council is still doing good work, he said. The group successfully pushed for tanker escort vessels, weather-related restrictions, oil-spill contingency plans and is championing the continued need for double-hulled tankers and new ice detection technology.

In the last few years, however, the council began caring more about office space and trips than projects, Stephens said. He estimates that the group spends 35 or 40 percent of its operating budget on projects, with the rest going to administration, overhead and travel.

Council staff dispute those figures.

The council spends 66 percent of its budget on projects, 25 percent on administrative costs and the rest on travel and committee expenses, according to deputy director Marilyn Leland. Project costs include project manager salaries, she said, explaining the discrepancy with Stephens' numbers.

Stephens first raised the issue at the council's May meeting, alerting them to the problem, according to Coast Guard officials. That's contrary to reports from some board members that a ''mole'' on the council tipped off the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Peyton Coleman of Valdez raised the issue in a May 25 letter urging the council to investigate travel spending by executive director John Devens.

Among the Coast Guard's claims: Devens and other staff took long business trips; staff flew first-class and stayed in expensive hotels; and Devens moved his mother from Pennsylvania to Alaska using council money.

The council spent as much as $10,000 to have former U.S. attorney for Alaska Robert Bundy investigate. Bundy cleared Devens of all the accusations.

Board member and Cordova Mayor Margy Johnson said in light of the apparently baseless charges from the Coast Guard, Stephens' resignation over budget problems is ''rather unseemly.''

Some administration costs stem from bringing in board members from Kodiak Island for meetings and running two offices in Anchorage and Valdez -- the latter opened at Stephens' urging, she said.

''These are personal opinions raised by Mr. Stephens and he obviously feels strongly about that,'' Johnson said. ''But I support the board.''

The council is one of two established by law to represent citizens from Prince William Sound to Kodiak who suffered the effects of the Valdez spill. The council will spend about $3.5 million this fiscal year, according to Leland.

A little more than $2.5 million of the budget comes from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the oil consortium that runs the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez. The rest of the money comes from federal grants and other sources.

Every year, federal law requires the Coast Guard evaluate the group's performance. The recertification process is under way now, with a decision expected by the end of summer.

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