In 1988, when I was mayor of Valdez, I participated in a group that devised three terrorist attack scenarios to evaluate whether the authorities could protect the trans-Alaska pipeline system and the tankers that ship oil from the terminal in Valdez.
The motivation for running these scenarios -- what we would call tabletop drills today -- was two instances of suspicious behavior by foreign nationals that summer that suggested there was some danger.
Besides the city of Valdez, the exercise involved the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI's Special Terrorist Unit, the Air Force, the Alaska State Troopers, the local police and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. As a result of the tabletop drills, we concluded it would be very difficult to stop determined terrorists from doing significant damage. There were simply too many ways to reach a tanker, the pipeline or the Valdez terminal.
With the events of Sept. 11 and the more recent bullet hole in the pipeline, security concerns that have been around since I was mayor have taken on new urgency. The Coast Guard, working with city, state and federal officials, has established a sweeping marine security system in Port Valdez, the body of water on which both the city of Valdez and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. tanker terminal are located.
While no one can doubt the need for extra precautions these days, I have some fear that the new security measures may go too far if we are, as President Bush has urged, to get back to normal.
At present, most of the waters of Port Valdez are tightly restricted, with the Coast Guard allowing only on a case-by-case basis such routine activities as commercial fishing, recreational boating, tour boats and on-water oil-spill drills by Alyeska.
This issue doesn't need to be resolved immediately. With no fishing openers in prospect for months to come, fishermen aren't being harmed yet. Winter is hardly prime time for tourists in Valdez, and it will be months before the boat trailers roll down the Richardson Highway to launch at Valdez.
And a few weeks without field deployment during drills won't seriously compromise oil spill safety.
In the long run, however, these restrictions must be adjusted if life in Prince William Sound is to return to something approaching normalcy.
The sound's economy depends heavily on commercial fishing. When summer brings the salmon back into the sound, it will be necessary to find a way to allow commercial fishermen to ply their trade.
In addition, the sound's water-based tourism industry needs to be accommodated. So do the recreational boaters from Interior and Southcentral Alaska who use Valdez to reach salt water.
Most importantly to our group, it is utterly unacceptable to contemplate a long-term reduction in the number or scope of oil-spill drills that involve actual deployment of equipment in Port Valdez.
Without on-water drills, the oil-spill-response system that deals with incidents at or near the tanker terminal can only lose its edge. We saw the consequences of such erosion after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
The Coast Guard is starting to meet with the various stakeholders to work out plans for protecting both security and life as we know it in the sound. We support this approach and hope the Coast Guard carries through fully and promptly.
We must not let our concern over terrorism put our environment at undue risk or unreasonably interfere with the everyday activities and pleasure of life on the sound. If we do so, the criminals of Sept. 11 will indeed have succeeded in their aim of damaging our way of life.
John Devens was mayor of Valdez at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and is now executive director of the prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council.
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