Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee prepares to seek members

The Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee, a nascent non-profit group intended to foster collaboration on safety issues in Cook Inlet waterways, is drafting a charter and preparing to solicit members in preparation for a first meeting planned in June.

Once established, the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee will recommend plans and practices to Cook Inlet users to prevent spills of oil and other hazardous materials. The committee was a measure strongly recommended by the Cook Inlet Risk Assessment, a study of oil spill risk in Cook Inlet compiled by Tim Robertson of environmental consulting group Nuka Research and by the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. Individuals interested in forming the safety committee began meeting shortly after the draft of the Risk Assessment was presented to the public in November 2014.

Over the course of four meetings since that time, they have created a convening workgroup consisting of U.S. Coast Guard personnel, representatives from piloting and maritime organizations, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, and the chair of an existing harbor safety committee in San Francisco.

This convening workgroup will dissolve after it has written the harbor safety committee’s charter and formed a managing board to receive membership applications. The draft charter lists 20 groups of Cook Inlet users that organizers want represented on the Harbor Safety Committee, including commercial fishers, environmentalists, ship operators, port authorities, and off-shore oil producers.

Robertson, who is serving as project manager of the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety committee, said that the meetings have built on the recommendation for the committee made in his risk assessment report.

“I think there’s a lot more clarity now in the mission of the Harbor Safety Committee,” Robertson said. “They (the convening workgroup) got into a lot more details of ‘how do you make this thing work?’ How they are organized and managed and that sort of thing. We didn’t really think about that in the risk assessment. We just said we wanted one.”

Robertson said the convening workgroup has studied the structures of existing harbor safety committees in preparation for creating one in Cook Inlet.

“They (the convening workgroup) focused first on the west coast, the Puget Sound area, the Columbia River area, San Francisco,” said Robertson. “We’ve talked to people at the L.A. Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee, we’ve looked at the one in Boston, looked at one in Tampa Bay, the Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee in Texas. There’s been a lot of learning from what other people have done.”

Despite the examples of previous Harbor Safety Committees, Robertson said that Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee will have to deal with the specific issues of its own location, such as drifting ice.

“You’ve got a very challenging environment to work in,” Robertson said. “But the other side of that is that you’ve got a very close community, a small community. Eighty percent of the traffic into Cook Inlet is 15 ships. So it’s the same people coming and going all the time. That’s not the case in other places, where they have a lot of people who are there once and never come back. So you’ve got a chance to build consensus on best practices and that sort of thing with a very active community they don’t necessarily have in other places.”

Robertson said that once the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee is established, one priority will be to draft an over-arching Harbor Safety plan, such as other harbor safety committees have issued. The draft charter for the safety committee includes a workgroup, lead by an Anchorage U.S. Coast Guard official, dedicated to creating a safety plan.

“They’re basically a documentation of best practices for how to operate in that water body,” Robertson said of the safety plans. “They go beyond the regulatory standards. They’re kind of standards put out by the mariners themselves in terms of saying ‘this is how you need to operate your vessels in Cook Inlet in order to be safe.’”

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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