EVOSTC considers addressing broader area impacted by 1989 disaster

On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Amendment of its restoration plan to incorporate an ecosystem approach to the original oil spill boundary set in the wake of the 1989 oil spill disaster is under consideration by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

During its mid-October meeting, the council approved four draft resolutions for general discussion and public comment through Dec. 16, including one to allow for restoration and monitoring outside the initially defined spill area for restoration of injured species, such as migratory seabirds and marine mammals, whose habitat ranges extend beyond and in some cases far beyond, the spill area.

Draft Resolution 20-D notes that the council, having had success in addressing direct impacts of the 1989 spill, is now in a position to address the broader spectrum of ecological impacts, including adverse effects to ecosystem services and mobile fish and wildlife populations whose ranges overlap or intersect with the spill area.

Available science, the resolution notes, has consistently pointed to a broader ecological footprint attributable to the spill than is represented by the currently defined spill area.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game research as shown that sockeye salmon in Prince William Sound come from natal streams as far away as the Copper River and Bering River and many of the 90 species of sea birds that were injured by the spill move significant distances, well outside the designated spill area throughout the year, especially during the reproductive season.

The original restoration plan written in 1994 established guidelines that said restoration activities should occur primarily within the spill area, but the plan also said that the trustee council could consider limited restoration activities outside the spill area, but within Alaska, once certain conditions were met.

The trustee council also approved three other draft resolutions for discussion and public comment.

Draft Resolution 20-A would amend the 1994 Restoration Plan to eliminate the annual trustee council public meeting and funding process and change reporting schedules.

Draft Resolution 20-B would change procedures for approval of multi-year projects.

Draft Resolution 20-C would authorize the council to combine habitat and research sub-accounts into a single multi-purpose account.

Complete copies of all four resolutions are posted on the council’s website evostc.state.ak.us.

Comments may be submitted at evostc.commentinput.com/comment/search.

The Trustee Council was formed to oversee restoration of the injured ecosystem through the use of the $900 million civil settlement. The Council consists of three state and three federal trustees (or their designees). The council is advised by members of the public and by members of the scientific community.