Community Corner: The importance of public comment

By Lisa Matlock
Outreach Coordinator

Lisa Matlock

The council regularly provides public comment on behalf of our 18 member entities on matters that support our mission of safe oil transportation in Prince William Sound. We are proud of our role as advocates on many technical topics of importance to our local citizenry.

Public comment helped save spill equipment in rural Alaska

An example of effective public comment, both by the council and by many of the individual communities within the Exxon Valdez oil spill region, includes continued U.S. Coast Guard funding of remote equipment caches. Due to federal budget pressures, the U.S. Coast Guard considered cutting funding for remote oil spill response equipment containers. The council alerted member communities to the potential loss of the caches. We also provided written public comments supporting the continued maintenance of remote equipment storage. In the end, remote equipment caches continue to be included in the U.S. Coast Guard budget, making Alaska coastal communities throughout the state better prepared in the case of a spill.

Comments helped support spill prevention and response funding

Sometimes public comment is provided in person. In 2014, the council’s legislative visit to Juneau coincided with a House Finance Subcommittee hearing for environmental funding. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation presented to the subcommittee on the funding gap faced by its Spill Prevention and Response Division. After the presentation, the council delivered public comment in support of the department’s request for additional funding. In 2015, the department’s request, along with support by the council and others, resulted in the development of a small refined fuel product tax. This new funding stream will help the department meet its prevention and response obligations to citizens into the future.

Input incorporated into local spill response plans

Important resource updates to the 2014 Prince William Sound Subarea Plan were also made based on council comments. Accurate winter species information was not captured in the first draft of the plan; in fact, it described the Sound as relatively barren in the winter. The council contributed species presence information in the update. The council’s comments also addressed sensitive area protection strategies, contributing to a multi-organization workshop to address the issues last year. The council’s public comments also provided research information on Prince William Sound oceanography circulation and weather patterns. All of these additions helped make the current plan much more effective in protecting the Sound in case of a spill.

Coming soon

Upcoming public comment periods are expected soon on several important subjects. Chief among them are:

  • the 24-month designation of geographical areas in Alaska where chemical dispersants would not be preauthorized
  • a 30-day comment period on the amended Prince William Sound tanker contingency plan

These two documents include matters that concern both the council and its member communities. The council will be soliciting input for public comments when these become available, and encourages communities to comment independently. Providing meaningful and diverse public comments is vital to helping ensure the environmental safety of Prince William Sound and downstream communities, a goal both the council and our constituents work toward each day.

 

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