Assembly contributes to CIRCAC projects

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2001

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly appropriated $250,000 for environmental monitoring, oil spill contingency plan reviews and other projects of an oversight group formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Tuesday's appropriation for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council includes:

$100,000 for Cook Inlet intertidal and subtidal monitoring.

CIRCAC conducted a pilot study last year to identify clam beds to be monitored long-term for hydrocarbon contamination. The contractor took samples from 25 sites around the inlet, said Susan Saupe, CIRCAC science coordinator. In preliminary results, there is no sign of significant pollution caused by human activity.

The borough contribution is a small fraction of the cost of the monitoring program, she said. However, it will allow CIRCAC to sample important new sites and take additional samples from old ones. Saupe said a primary goal is to identify the level of background contamination from natural sources and distinguish that from pollution caused by human activity.

"We're trying to identify what is background," she said. "And, also, are there differences caused from industry discharges, municipal discharges, non-point sources or combustion sources?"

Combustion sources could include cars, boats and forest fires.

$58,000 to continue shoreline mapping CIRCAC began this year.

The recent work used aerial digital videos to produce a database identifying shoreline features and major biological habitats in central Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay. With the borough money, CIRCAC will pay a contractor to do similar mapping of Chinitna and Kamishak bays, northern Cook Inlet and part of the outer Kenai Peninsula coast.

$45,000 to pay an independent contractor to review spill contingency plans for large vessels -- other than tanker ships -- crossing Cook Inlet.

The Legislature last spring passed a bill requiring operators of large vessels other than tankers -- cruise ships, freighters and large floating fish processors, for example -- to prove they have financial means to address oil spills and to file spill contingency plans before operating in state waters.

The Legislature included funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to review the contingency plans, but did not fund public review by oversight groups such as CIRCAC.

"It would be irresponsible for us as a borough not to step into that vacuum in the interim until a funding mechanism is developed at the state level," said assembly member Ron Long of Seward.

Assembly member Paul Fischer of Kasilof said he favors borough funding to help CIRCAC now, but worries about the precedent set by funding what should be the responsibility of the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The borough money comes from local property taxes, he said.

"I do think we need to nail the state. I think they're remiss," he said.

CIRCAC already is taking competitive bids to hire a contingency plan reviewer. The borough money will allow an expansion to the reviewer's duties.

$22,000 toward an independent evaluation of the condition of all pipelines in Cook Inlet.

Jim Carter, CIRCAC executive director, said he hopes the state will contribute $120,000 for the work, which is expected to cost $150,000. The $22,000 from the borough plus a contribution from CIRCAC will pay the rest. CIRCAC expects a committee of state, federal, industry and citizen representatives to pick a contractor to do the evaluation.

Assembly member Bill Popp of Kenai explained the need. Hundreds of miles of pipelines cross the inlet, some in use and some abandoned, he said. Many have been there for 40 years, subject to tides and corrosion. Eventually, some will deteriorate and leak oil, he said. Investigators are trying to determine the sources of several small sheens spotted recently on Cook Inlet.

$25,000 to expand CIRCAC's public outreach program.

Congress established CIRCAC partly to combat complacency, "and one of the most effective ways to accomplish that is to keep the public informed about important issues related to CIRCAC's mission," says an attachment to the ordinance appropriating the borough money.

The original borough funding proposal, introduced Sept. 4, mentioned spill contingency plan reviews, shoreline mapping and environmental monitoring but did not specify spending for individual projects. Assembly member Chris Moss of Homer said he wants to be sure that the borough money would go to specific programs and not simply to expand the CIRCAC organization.

Popp introduced an amendment budgeting specific amounts for each project and specifying that CIRCAC would hire independent contractors to do the work. That and the final ordinance passed 8-0. Assembly member Grace Merkes of Sterling was absent.

In other business, the assembly:

Accepted and appropriated $750,000 from the U.S. Forest Service for emergency response.

Jan Henry, coordinator of the borough Office of Emergency Management, said $250,000 of that will buy a mobile communications vehicle to address problems the borough had during the Kenai Lake and Mystery Hills fires.

The remaining $500,000, plus $310,000 in borough funds, will pay for improvements to the borough's emergency warning siren system.

Named borough priorities for transportation improvements from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Topping the borough list are rehabilitation of Echo Lake Road near Soldotna, reconstruction of Jones Stub Road near Soldotna and rehabilitation of the North Fork Road in Anchor Point. The list includes other road projects from Seward to Voznesenka plus reconstruction of the Seldovia airport.

Approved local-option zoning to classify the borough's Russian Gap Subdivision in Cooper Landing.

Authorized the sale of 25 parcels of borough-owned land.

Certified the results of the Oct. 2 borough election.

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