Spill council offers head job to Gail Phillips

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The agency in charge of spending what's left of $900 million in Exxon Valdez oil spill restoration funds has offered its top job to longtime Republican politician Gail Phillips.

The former speaker of the House and candidate for lieutenant governor did not return calls to the Anchorage Daily News but was expected to accept the job offered Thursday by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. She would replace longtime executive director Molly McCammon, who resigned July 2.

Phillips' employment completes a massive physical and philosophical makeover of the council in recent years that is likely to affect how the remaining $90 million in restoration funds are spent. Three members of Gov. Frank Murkowski's cabinet replaced those of former Gov. Tony Knowles. Two of three federal seats have turned over since the presidential election in 2002.

The trustees' main job is to decide what types of restoration projects the council undertakes, currently some $5 million worth a year.

Land acquisition is almost certainly doomed, said several council members and staff. Since the council was formed in the wake of the 1989 Prince William Sound oil spill, nearly half its expenditures have gone toward buying large parcels of land in the name of habitat protection.

Murkowski criticized the approach when he was a U.S. senator and still does. Last month he vetoed the council's attempt to purchase land on Afognak Island.

Joe Mead, the new U.S. Forest Service trustee, said from what he can tell from briefing documents from fellow council members and staff, land acquisition was a high priority in the first 10 years after the oil spill.

''The briefings I've seen suggest that important work is behind us.''

What lies ahead will become more clear in October. That's when the trustees choose among dozens of scientific projects for funding in the coming year.

The new trustees could put their stamp on the program by choosing, for example, long-term monitoring over short-term restoration projects, or habitat studies over tribal education efforts.

The new state trustees include Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Ernesta Ballard and Attorney General Gregg Renkes.

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