Kawerak hosts second Arctic shipping meeting
Kawerak Inc.’s Marine Advocacy program invited 15 tribal representatives from Norton Sound and Bering Strait villages to Nome to continue a discussion about how to prepare for the increase in Arctic shipping traffic.
The first meeting, titled “Bering Strait Voices on Arctic Shipping” was spurred by climate change-driven opening of Arctic waters to increased marine traffic and was held in September 2014.
This week’s meeting brought tribal representatives from all villages except for Stebbins to the Kawerak board room table, to hear concerns from each village, presentations from the U.S. Coast Guard and about the Golovin Emergency Response Plan as well as discussions about climate change observed in the villages.
A pressing issue at hand is the involvement of the region to participate in the update of a so-called Subarea Contingency Plan. The U.S. Coast Guard is the federal lead agency to update the plan.
Lt. Commander Matthew Mitchell with the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s Contingency Planning division enlisted the help of those present at the meeting to update the plan, specifically the section that addresses community profiles and resources. After detailing the legal basis of the plan, which is a regional addition to a unified plan, and specifies what steps need to be taken in the event of an oil spill or other hazardous material release in the area, needs accurate information on nuts and bolts such as: how many people live in a community? Who are the people in charge and how do you get a hold of them? Where would they set up a command center in the event of an emergency that requires responders to travel to the community?
Most of the information in the existing plan is outdated and Mitchell pleaded for help from the tribal and municipal entities of all Kawerak communities to help him and his limited staff to tackle the update of the plan. “We are begging and pleading for help to make these plans better,” he said.
Mitchell began his presentation by announcing his retirement in six months, well before the plan’s update is to be completed. His successor is still not determined, but he pledged to work with the region’s communities to update the plan.
The plan covers a lot of ground, including scientifically determined sensitive areas, a section on dispersants to be used in Arctic waters, a section that identifies resources in Alaska’s northwest farflung communities and sections that identify the roles of the federal and state responders, the USCG, the EPA and the state’s ADEC, and geographic response strategies, which spell out what resources are kept in what location and how they are to be deployed.
The plans, he said, are based on the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. “That was a game changer,” he said. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, another component will play a role in the furthcoming plan, namely a chapter on the use of dispersants.
The 1990 OPA law also focuses on industry to prevent and mitigate harm to the environment. “Resources follow the industry,” Mitchell said. “Shell brought tremendous resources to the Arctic, and the expectation is that when you bring industry, you bring resources.”
Concerns from workshop attendants included that oil tankers and lightering barges are a common sight offshore and that none of these are notifying the villages when they come to Norton Sound, the Bering Strait or park in Port Clarence. Mitchell said that unlike other parts of the United States, in Alaska those tankers and fuel barges are required to have an alternative approved plan that requires them to have extra oil spill boom and trained personnel on board to be effective first responders in the event of an oil release. In addition, they contract with Alaska Chadux, an oil spill response organization, that has mobile means to quickly bring resources to northwest Alaska to clean up an oil spill.
Mitchell said the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a boom exercise in Kotzebue last year and has another one planned for June in Nome.
He also said that the Alaska Regional Response Team, a highlevel panel made up of members of federal and state organizations, will visit and meet on Nome in September.
A telephone conference held last week to update the plan was only sparsely attended by a nurse from the Nome, by the UAF MAP agent and a representative from a conservation agency.
In other comments, during the Bering Strait Voices on Shipping, the tribal representatives agreed on unpredictable weather changes that interfere with subsistence hunting. Elim’s Morris Nakarak observed that migration patterns of game animals are changing and so are the ocean currents. He voiced the concern that increased ship traffic will have the unwanted consequence that ships will dump garbage into the ocean, regardless of international laws. Carol Oliver from Golovin observed that winds seem to be stronger and more frequent. She also observed that more fuel barges are showing up on the horizon in the summer and voiced concern over the transfer of oil from tanker to barge at sea.
“We need more training to prepare our local people to respond to emergencys,” she said.
Stewart Tocktoo of Brevig Mission reported that fish had an oily taste last summer. Residents saw the Shell fleet come through Port Clarence and suspect that while they cleaned out the bilge, oil entered the waters. He said Brevig Mission is dismayed over the lack of consultation in regards to plans involving Port Clarence as a deep-draft water port. “We fully support the deep-draft port in Nome rather than have one built in Port Clarence,” Tocktoo said. He said Nome has the better infrastructure with roads, airport, medical facilities and stores to accommodate increasing vessel traffic.
Finally, Melanie Bahnke brought up that Crystal Cruise is scheduled to visit the area with a 1,000-passenger cruise ship next summer and asked the Coast Guard: “Are we ready?”