Community Corner: A new look at old programs

Maia Draper-Reich

Hello from the new voice here in the Community Corner! Since joining the staff in early August, I have enjoyed launching into and paddling around the vast and deep waters of the Council’s work. I step into the outreach coordinator role with my background as a naturalist, science and environmental educator, dancer, and outreach program manager.

I know the joy of facilitating young people learning about the nature that surrounds them. There is a specific excitement that comes when you help someone make a new connection about a science-based fact. I recognize the importance of clear information leading to an audience’s inspiration, which leads them to action.

As I explore and learn about the Council, I am sparked by the variety of community outreach accomplished and funded throughout the region. The Youth Involvement project stands out. As in years previous, the Council provided funding for educating the youth in our community on topics related to the Council’s mission, such as citizens’ oversight, environmental impacts of the operation of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company oil terminal in Valdez and the oil tankers that call there, oil spill prevention, and response planning and operation. Eight programs were funded this year.

The Council sponsored a new youth track at the Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium this year, put on by the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation to encourage and engage young people in the Prince William Sound region. These presentations and others from the symposium are available online at the foundation’s website: Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation – 2022 Symposium

Oil spill prevention and response engineering was taught through the remotely operated vehicles, or ROV challenge at this year’s Tsunami Bowl. This challenge was put on by the Prince William Sound Science Center. Youth Involvement also funded writing a ROV Kit Build-Guide for other educators to teach robotics and Exxon Valdez oil spill history and aftermath. It is available on their website. PWSSC’s R.O.V. Kit Build-Guide: How to build a simple remotely operated vehicle for classroom use

Among the rest are oil spill education for students via the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and the Copper River Watershed Project, and for teachers during Alaska Geographic’s Kenai Fjords Floating Teacher Workshop and Prince William Sound College’s Ecology for Teachers course.

The Youth Involvement projects are indicative of the many modes of community outreach that are important to share the Council’s mission and the varied work of the staff and committees. Each connection the community of volunteers, staff, and partners make with the Council’s audiences – be it the member communities and groups, the greater scientific community, oil industry and regulators, or the citizens of the region affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill – is a paddle dipping into the water and pushing the Council’s metaphorical kayak forward.

I look forward to continuing to tell the story of the spill, foster the network of organizations doing oil spill prevention and response education, and to inviting learners of all ages to understand their environment. As always, our goal remains to continue the Council’s mission through engaging our community members in meaningful experiences and inspiring new and long-time environmental stewards.

Oliver moves on; Long-time volunteers honored

Photo of Betsi Oliver, outreach coordinator.

By Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

During nearly four years at the Council as Outreach Coordinator, I have experienced a depth of volunteer commitment that I will continue to value as a model for citizen engagement.

Each committee member volunteers an estimated forty hours per year, including preparing for and attending meetings. Board members volunteer at least a hundred hours annually preparing for and attending several multi-day meetings per year. In addition, many Board members serve on committees, and many committee members contribute countless additional hours on project teams guiding specific work outcomes. In the past few years, this has meant lots of videoconference time, for which we are especially grateful.

Although my path diverges here, I cherish the relationships I’ve built and the accomplishments of the Council I’ve witnessed. The toughest accomplishment to measure is always prevention – the lack of disaster that affirms the value of time, effort, and dollars spent, often behind the scenes, to keep our system robust. Thank you to all the folks investing your valuable time and expertise. You are indeed the citizens of the citizens’ advisory council.

Volunteers honored

At its Board meeting each May, the Council honors its volunteers that have reached a 5-year milestone.
The following have dedicated extraordinary time and effort to help protect Alaskans from another major oil spill:

  • Gordon Scott honored for 30 years of service on the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Committee
  • Jane Eisemann honored for 20 years of service, formerly as a Board member and on several committees, currently serving on the Information and Education Committee
  • Dorothy Moore honored for 15 years of service as a Board member and on several committees
  • President Robert Archibald and Oliver present a memento to Bauer for her 10 years of service.

    Amanda Bauer honored for 10 years of service as a Board member and on several committees

  • Harold Blehm honored for 10 years of service on the Terminal Operations and Environmental Monitoring Committee
  • Orson Smith honored for 10 years of service, formerly as a Board member and several committees, recently retired from the Port Operations and Vessel Traffic Systems Committee
  • Wei Cheng honored for 5 years of service on the Scientific Advisory Committee

Council mourns loss of Anchorage staffer

Natalie Novik, administrative assistant for the Anchorage office, passed away in October 2021, after a two-year battle with cancer. Natalie joined Council staff in June 2014.

Born and educated in Paris, Natalie was proud of her Breton and Russian roots. She dedicated much of her life to oil spill prevention and response in Alaska and internationally.

She volunteered to help clean up after multiple oil spills that plagued Brittany starting in the 1970s. When the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, Natalie was teaching in New York and already planning to move to Alaska.

In Alaska, Natalie spent 13 years with Northern Forum, a nonprofit group created to improve communications and cooperation in northern regions. In that role she supported providing ongoing know-how and assistance related to the 1994 pipeline spill in the Komi Republic in Russia. As part of Northern Forum’s program on disaster management in the North and the Arctic, Natalie was in charge of relations with the Arctic Council.

Years before joining the Council’s staff, she provided translation and interpretation between the Council and Sydicat Mixte Vigipol, a citizen governance group created after the Amoco Cadiz ran aground in 1978 on the Brittany coast. Natalie also worked two years for Ecoshelf on Sakhalin Island in Russia, translating contracts and documents related to oil spill prevention, monitoring, and response.

Natalie was an advocate for residents of northern regions and cross-cultural engagement in many ways. She worked for the Alaska Native Science Commission’s community self-reliance project from 2012-2013, and the World Trade Centers Association immediately before joining the Council’s staff. From 2009-2014, she served as Honorary Consul of France in Alaska. She was a devoted volunteer for the Celtic Community of Alaska, where she was still serving as president until she passed.

Natalie was very proud of her work with the Council and was a true believer in our mission. She provided vast contributions to the Council’s robust archives, directly supporting the success of many projects that rely on historical knowledge. She firmly believed in the value of gathering and connecting in person, and poured attention into every detail for the annual Science Night event, volunteer workshop, and holiday party.

Natalie left behind her beloved cat Sashka (who has been adopted by a friend), many friends and colleagues, and memories of her sense of humor, caring, creativity, and passion. When Natalie applied for her position at the Council, she summed up her career thusly: “curious and creative individuals will go through life learning new skills and enriching their potential.”

Community Corner: Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium goes virtual

By Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

Photo of Betsi Oliver
Betsi Oliver

The third annual Prince William Sound Natural History Symposium, held on May 24, 2021, featured 20 speakers and over 260 participants. The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation hosts this annual event. The foundation is a small volunteer-led nonprofit dedicated to keeping Prince William Sound healthy, clean, and wild, for all to enjoy. The Council helped sponsor the event and assisted the planning effort.

Speakers represented tribes, land management agencies, nonprofits, and scientists working in Prince William Sound and the North Gulf of Alaska. Representatives from Chugach Regional Resources Commission started the day with a Land Acknowledgment and the Mayor of Whittier, Dave Dickason, welcomed attendees. Topics ranged from wildlife to glaciers to history. Council volunteer Dave Goldstein presented on weather in Prince William Sound. I provided an introduction to how oil spill response is managed in our region.

The symposium was first conceived in 2019 as a pre-season training for guides and interpreters based out of Whittier. Nobody expected the event, which was held at the Whittier Public Safety Building, to be standing-room-only with over a hundred attendees.

Then, in early 2020, the organizers faced a challenge: cancel, or go virtual? I had already attended a few virtual conferences thrown together hastily in March 2020, so I knew it could be done. I was able to support the transition to an online symposium, preparing speakers and hosts to pull off this “new” thing: a live, public videoconference event. Over 260 people registered that year. It was a success! The virtual platform allowed participation from the entire Prince William Sound region, as well as statewide and beyond. Registration in 2021 matched numbers from 2020.

The future of the symposium is unclear. Presenters, participants, and organizers have all said they want to see it continue. After three years of volunteer efforts, the foundation is seeking financial support to hire a symposium coordinator. As pandemic restrictions lift, many would like to see the event return to Whittier. The possibility of a hybrid event (in person and online) seems to serve both the needs of local guides and interpreters – the original audience – and the broader interest that has developed over two years of online distribution. A dedicated coordinator would be critical to a successful hybrid event, which requires advanced audio-visual technology and greater staff support. The foundation hosts other events, including extensive volunteer efforts, throughout the year.

Recordings from the 2020 and 2021 symposiums are posted on the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation’s website.

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