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.

Community Corner: We miss our volunteer family!

Photo of Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

The Council’s staff has spent much of the last year working from home. We consider ourselves lucky to have jobs that allow us to continue working so safely during the pandemic.

However, we find ourselves missing our fellow coworkers and volunteers. Our volunteers are not just our colleagues, but also our friends.

In honor of our wonderful volunteers, here are a few of our favorite photos from recent years.

Volunteers Robert Archibald, Patience Andersen Faulkner, and Jerry Brookman with staff members Betsi Oliver and Brooke Taylor at the Alaska Forum on the Environment in February 2019.

 

The Council wants to specifically honor long-time volunteer George Skladal, (left, with Executive Director Donna Schantz) member of the Council’s Terminal Operations and Environmental Monitoring Committee. George attended the very first meeting of that committee, over 30 years ago, and he remains an active member to this day. Thank you for your service!

 

Volunteer Jane Eisemann joined staffer Betsi Oliver and Lynda Giguere in 2018, at the joint booth with the Council’s sister organization, Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council. Happy retirement, Lynda!

Community Corner: How does outreach continue in a pandemic?

Photo of Betsi Oliver, outreach coordinator.
Photo of Betsi Oliver
Betsi Oliver

My job at the Council is to foster community engagement. This includes lots of travel to our many small communities, from Cordova in the east to Kodiak Island in the west. I also represent the Council at events such as oil spill prevention and response professional conferences, fisherman conventions, scientific forums, local government meetings or conferences, and community receptions.

All that came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 when the pandemic stopped all travel for the Council. Since then, meetings have been via videoconference, educators have cut most hands-on programs, and conferences have been canceled or switched to online.

To continue citizen oversight of the operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and tankers that use it, Council staff had to get creative and roll with the rapidly changing field of public engagement.

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