Harold Blehm, newest member of the council’s Terminal Operations and Vessel Traffic System committee is passionate about using his time to help make Valdez, Prince William Sound, and the Chugach mountains a better place.
Blehm first moved to Alaska in 1982, after he graduated from Colorado State University’s School of Forestry with a degree in outdoor recreation administration.
Colorado’s population has grown so much that Blehm said he doesn’t think he could ever return there.
“All the lakes we used to fish in are now inside city limits and you can’t fish there anymore,” Blehm said, “It’s sad.”
For his first few years in Alaska, Blehm worked for the City of Valdez as a firefighter, emergency medical technician and police officer. In 1988, Blehm finally got his dream job with the Alaska State Parks as district ranger for the Copper Basin Ranger District in Tazlina, Alaska.
“I got that job in ‘88, and in ’89, guess what happened?”
After the spill, he returned to the Valdez area to help with recovery efforts.
Blehm worked for a short time as a medic with VECO, the company who hired most of the Exxon Valdez spill cleanup workers. He spent one week on a housing facility boat, treating oil spill workers with “horrible, wet coughs.”
“They would come in asking what to do,” Blehm said, “They had to go back to work because the money was good.”
Blehm said the boats were crowded and dirty. He left the job after one week and returned to his previous position with the City of Valdez.
That year, Blehm and several other Prince William Sound residents, including former council board member Stan Stephens, helped form a non-profit organization called the Prince William Sound Conservation Alliance.
“We just had the urgency to do something environmentally,” Blehm said.
The alliance worked on projects related to the spill before the group dissolved a few years later. Some of the organization’s work was taken on by other organizations and continued.
Today, Blehm volunteers for several organizations, working to protect Prince William Sound and support environmentally responsible development in the region.
One such group is the Prince William Sound Marine Trail Steering Committee. The committee is working to create a marine recreation trail to promote sustainable tourism. The trail will link a series of public use cabins, campsites and day use areas accessible by kayak, sailboat or small motorized watercraft.
“The idea is to have a marine trail, similar to the trails in Southeast Alaska, that will connect Whittier to Valdez to Chenega and ultimately, hopefully Cordova,” Blehm said.
Blehm also volunteers for the Prince William Sound Resource Advisory Committee for the Chugach National Forest. The committee reviews proposals regarding land use, rehabilitation of salmon streams, and the rehabilitation or obliteration of existing roads. One recent project he is excited about is the rehabilitation of Eshamy Bay and the building of a new cabin for public use. The cabin will be on the marine recreation trail.
Blehm also volunteers for the Valdez Local Emergency Planning Committee, where he gets to practice his training in the standardized emergency management structure known as the Incident Command System (see page 6 for more on this system). This committee is responsible for letting the community know about hazardous materials and helps respond to hazards that come up.
“It draws together people from the private sector, people from industry, the state, the Coast Guard, and the community,” Blehm said.
“Periodically, we have practice drills,” Blehm said, “It keeps us brushed up so there is no return of the chaos that followed the [Exxon Valdez] oil spill.”
Blehm talked about a council project that is helping facilitate communication between the Valdez Fire Department and the Alyeska Fire Brigade. Should a fire break out on the terminal, the two entities would work together to fight the fire.
“They would have to set up joint operations to deal with it through the Incident Command System,” Blehm said.
Blehm said the committee has been discussing the need for each entity’s responsibilities to be more clearly spelled out.
As a firefighter, Blehm participated in marine firefighting symposiums in the 1990’s. Blehm sees the council’s upcoming symposium as an important contribution to safety.
“Marine firefighting is pretty scary,” Blehm said, “It’s the obscured visibility, the heat, and the tendency to get turned around, not knowing fore from aft, because there are very few landmarks.”
The level of professionalism and archival knowledge among members of his committee, the board and staff has impressed Blehm.
“I see my role with the council as a foot soldier,” Blehm said,” If there’s anything I can do, I want to do it.”