Formation of the council

The quotes on this page are part of an oral history of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, released in April 2015. For more information about this document, please visit: Stories of the early years and formation of the council released

Those involved share memories about the earliest efforts to create and form a citizens’ advisory council.

“In February of 1989 we had just gone through quite a bad spill at the terminal on one of the tankers. A lot of people thought they had done a great job at cleaning it up. Others, myself included, thought they hadn’t. We knew then that if we had a big spill we were in trouble because they didn’t have the equipment here.”

– Stan Stephens

Stephens represented the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association on the council’s board of directors from March 1992 to January 2008 and the City of Valdez from January 2009 to February 2012.

“About a year before the spill, as mayor of Valdez, I formed an ad hoc committee on what to do in case of a major oil spill, because we knew that the oil industry had broken many of the promises they made to us. They didn’t have the equipment they promised and they didn’t have the crack response team any more. They had reassigned those people to other duties, so we knew there was a problem.”

-John S. Devens, Sr

Devens was the mayor of the City of Valdez, Alaska at the time of the spill. He helped form the Oiled Mayors Group, a coalition of leaders from communities impacted by the spill. He also served as executive director from 1997-2009.

“Once I became aware of the Shetland Oil Terminal Environment Advisory Group I knew it was a great idea and I thought we should set one up here for the terminal and the tankers.

I took the idea immediately to George Nelson, then president of Alyeska. He basically told me to get lost, that he didn’t want citizens breathing down his neck. There was absolutely no political necessity for him to respond favorably to the request at the time.

I then took the idea to our state senator of the region, Mike Szymanski. He liked it, so we broadened the concept and in 1987, we began looking seriously around the nation for other potential models. I was proposing these citizens’ advisory councils for all large-scale extractive-industry projects in Alaska, such as large mines and certainly the Prince William Sound oil terminal. As a first step for Alaska, the senator’s office drafted a bill to establish an “Environmental and Industrial Dispute Resolution Task Force” to study the concept of industry/public advisory groups as we had originally proposed.

But that bill was killed right away. The policy folks in the Cowper administration didn’t see the need for it and the oil lobby essentially killed it before it moved very far. That was two years prior to the Exxon Valdez. And I’ve always felt that if we had been successful at establishing the RCAC then, the Exxon Valdez oil spill may never have happened because they would have identified the holes in the tanker safety system.”

– Rick Steiner

Steiner was a marine conservation professor, stationed in Cordova, Alaska in 1989. Steiner was actively promoting the idea of a citizens’ council before the spill, and continues to advocate for citizen oversight of extraction industries worldwide.

“We can blame the spill on Exxon, but the fact of the matter is that the blame actually goes to everyone. And to me that was the direction we needed to push for, to have a citizen say-so. We had to begin doing things differently.”

– Stan Stephens

“At that point we formed what was called the oiled mayors group, which was for village leaders and mayors. I was a key component of that group and was often referred to as its spiritual leader because I had a tendency to be the most outrageous and the most outspoken. We met with Alyeska every week in Anchorage in an effort to iron out some of our differences and to insist that the system of the squeaky wheel getting all the attention was not the best way to go about getting things done. We wanted a system that was fair and even.

We frequently called press conferences and I was often the spokesperson. We were the darlings of the press; they treated us very well. Industry was very sensitive to the press, to litigation, and to legislation, so we played all three of those cards, and we got a lot of things done. I really think that the oiled mayors group was one of the beginnings of the RCAC.”

– John S. Devens, Sr

“Various stakeholders, communities, organizations, etc. realized that something had to change in order to make sure that another oil spill didn’t happen again. It was in that spirit that the Alyeska Citizens’ Advisory Committee (ACAC) was formed.”

– Bill Walker

Walker represented the City of Valdez on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to September 2001.

“Before the legislation happened, Alyeska was beginning to be open to the idea of a citizens oversight council. So here you have the city behind the idea, Alyeska buying into the idea, and the oiled mayors from all the affected communities discussing the idea of spill prevention over the long term. Between all those forces, things began to happen fairly quickly.”

– Mead Treadwell

Treadwell represented the City of Cordova on the council’s board of directors from August 1989 to December 1990.

“There are so many people who deserve credit for identifying the problem and for working so hard. My assessment is that the RCAC never would have come about if concerned residents and citizens of Prince William Sound hadn’t cared enough to make it happen.”

— Scott Sterling

Sterling represented the City of Cordova on the council’s board of directors from December 1990 to March 1993.

“It was the perfect storm in terms of pending legislation, public opinion, plus a lot of anger that was directed at Alyeska that put us in the driver’s seat in a lot of ways. Getting that independent funding was critical.”

-Anne Rothe

Rothe represented the National Wildlife Federation on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to December 1993.

“From there, I worked with Mark Hutton, who was doing contract work with Alyeska, to look at who should be invited to put this group together. Alyeska was issuing invitations to people, but we were making suggestions. We wanted to make sure that we had all the interested parties involved, looking at the whole impact area, not only the cities and boroughs, but the interest groups as well.”

-Marilyn Leland

Leland represented the Cordova District Fishermen United on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to September 1991.

“I drove Jim Hermiller to the signing of the contract, and his last question to me was, “Are we doing the right thing?” He felt that in the end it all boils down to the quality of the people and the purity of their intention, as to whether things do or do not work out, regardless of legislation. Jim was concerned that the people we had in the beginning were all reasonable, mature people and that the process would work so long as there were reasonable and mature people. He always feared the day when you have an organization with unlimited power and virtually unlimited money and you did not have reasonable and fair people. The downside was you could never choose the quality of the people who would be in it. The upside is that it fixed in concrete an oversight that has probably eliminated complacency for all time.”

-Mark Hutton

Hutton served as liaison between Jim Hermiller, then president of Alyeska, during and after the formation of the council.

“The first meeting was very interesting. Peoples’ emotions were still pretty much right on the surface, so there were some tense moments. However, the way I saw it, especially in the earliest days, there was an enormous feeling of working together to bring this group to its full potential. There was no sense of territoriality. Alyeska was there; they were on board with it, their new president wanted them to attend the meetings.”

-Marilyn Leland

“Importantly, government was not involved in this meeting; it was fishing-industry-to-oil-industry. At that meeting, we presented a list of demands to the oil industry regarding the oil spill and one of them was the establishment of a citizens’ advisory council for the region. The oil industry, particularly Alyeska and BP, was very receptive to the citizens’ advisory council idea. After we adjourned the meeting the Alyeska reps immediately called BP London and told us they got approval to establish a Prince William Sound citizens’ advisory council. They weren’t quite as agreeable with the other things we proposed in that meeting (double hulls, better vessel traffic systems, etc.), and we had to work things out with them over the next several years. But the June 17, 1989, meeting was when and where the agreement was made to set up the Prince William Sound council….

…Once we had the agreement from the industry at the June 1989 meeting to establish the RCAC, I circulated the concept paper to the Alaska congressional delegation. Senator Frank Murkowski liked it, and he then followed up by sending two of his staffers over to Sullom Voe, to verify and ground-truth the concept. After that, the Senator inserted the RCACs into OPA ‘90.”

– Rick Steiner

“It was a small intense group, and very unique. Bob Brodie, Ann Rothe, Mead Treadwell, Marilyn Leland, Tim Robertson, myself and a few others. I think there was something about how that group came to together, in the tragedy and the turmoil of what was going on. It was very intense around here in 1989. A bunch of folks came together and everything seemed to click, and we actually carved something into stone that had never been done before and it was done under very difficult operating conditions, both politically, plus we all had other jobs. But we just took an interest in making this happen.”

-Jim Butler

Butler represented the Kenai Peninsula Borough on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to September 1990.

“There were then many subsequent meetings. I think we met every other week for a period of time as we decided who we were and what we were going to be. In a lot of cases there was nobody from Alyeska in the room, and if we wanted to meet privately, that was fine with them. There was some angst, though. There were several people who thought that we were being co-opted and that this would not work out, and that it would eventually become so influenced by the industry that it would be ineffective.”

-Tim Robertson

Robertson represented the City of Seldovia on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to December 1991.

“Alyeska put huge resources into the formation of RCAC and managing OPA ‘90. But for us, the whole premise was, can we trust that this is going to be an independent group and not a puppet of the oil industry? We were all interested in setting a precedent for how potentially impacted areas might deal with impacting entities. Not just oil spills; it was a precedent for any major facility that could impact a region. It would provide a model for the world on how to deal with potentially polluting facilities, especially huge potentially polluting facilities. And it was trying to do it in a smart way, that would allow for compensation of social and economic impacts as a result of releasing any pollutants in the future.”

– Chris Gates

Gates represented the City of Seward on the council’s board of directors from July 1989 to February 1993.

Up next:

Turbulent Early Years

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