Harbor safety committee proposal needs clearer goals

  • Saturday, November 15, 2014 4:42pm
  • Opinion

This past week, the Clarion reported on a recommendation from the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council to establish a Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee. With the potential for increased shipping traffic in the inlet, it’s a proposal worth serious consideration — but it also raises some questions that need answers before moving forward.

The harbor safety committee recommendation comes with the advisory council’s risk assessment report, which identifies a number of options to help mitigate the risks associated with Cook Inlet marine transportation, especially as it pertains to oil and gas.

According to the advisory council, a harbor safety committee would serve “as a path forward to reduce the risks of marine accidents in Cook Inlet.”

During a Wednesday presentation in Kenai, Coast Guard Lt. Eugene Chung emphasized that a harbor safety committee would not be another regulatory body, the Clarion reported.

“It’s industry players, as well as the public, getting together with state and federal agencies, to come up with non-regulatory solutions,” Chung said.

Safety committee members would include a wide range of stakeholders, such as vessel owners, port authorities, various government agencies, and the general public. Issues with marine transportation in Cook Inlet could be addressed through the harbor safety committee, and recommendations made to increase safety.

On the face of it, it’s a good idea. Cook Inlet already sees a great deal of vessel traffic from a wide range of users — private craft, charter and commercial fishing vessels, oil tankers and cargo ships — and with an LNG plant on the horizon, marine traffic is going to increase. Bringing everyone to the same table to keep the inlet safe and sound is a good idea.

We do have some questions. At the Wednesday meeting, Sen. Peter Micciche asked what role a harbor safety committee would play that isn’t already being filled by a number of other agencies and organizations, including the advisory council.

We’d like to see some greater clarity on how a harbor safety committee would be different, and what gaps it would cover. Are there organizations already in place that could be filling that role?

We also want to know how recommendations made by a harbor safety committee will be received. Recommendations are different than regulations, and it would be up to industry to decide which recommendations are implemented. What happens if recommendations aren’t put into practice?

Marine safety is crucial to the well-being of our region’s economy and environment. Cook Inlet is a challenging body to navigate, even on the best of days, and we’re supportive of any measure that enhances safety on the water.

But we also want to make sure that any new agency or organization fills a need that is not being met, and has the support of the stakeholders it hopes to engage.

We’d like to learn more about the proposed harbor safety committee’s role, so we can have those questions answered.

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