Construction is set to begin in early 2022 on an oil spill response facility at Shepard Point, funded through a $40 million federal transportation grant to the Native Village of Eyak.
The project is to include a dock and small port to serve as the proposed Shepard Point Marine Tribal Transportation and Oil Spill Response Facility, as well as a central location for tribal members and members of the broader community to develop marine support services.
The facility will allow the tribal government to protect and preserve the important traditional resources in the region, said Bert Adams, executive director of NVE.
“The Eyak people have been stewards of the lands and water for thousands of years,” he said. “Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) settlement the Eyak people strived to secure a spill response facility on the Cordova side of Prince William Sound, to protect habitat and traditional resources. This facility is the third and final oil spill response center mandated by the EVOS settlement, in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound, and the last one to be approved and funded under the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program.
It will allow access for deep-water draft vessel and a road connection from the facility to the all-weather Merle K. (Mudhole) Smith Airport. Approval for the section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was received in October 2017, after more than 16 years of studies by federal and state agencies. Now the project is in the final stages of design and NVE has retained an environmental consultant to ensure compliance with all state and federal permits, Adams said. It also has the support of NVE, Chugach Alaska Corp., the city of Cordova, the Eyak Corp. and Alaska’s congressional delegation. Construction of the oil spill response facility will help ensure that NVE and the surrounding region have the tools and data necessary to respond to potential future disasters, they said.
The delegation announced the grant, which totals $40,199,275, on Jan. 22.
Tribal leaders said that NVE took the lead in soliciting funds from the Federal Highway Administration and over the past two decades worked to design and redesign the facility to minimize and mitigate adverse environmental impacts of the project while presenting a facility to protect the region when another oil spill occurs.
The considerable efforts of NVE notwithstanding, there are some people opposed to the port project.
Dune Lankard, founder and president of the Native Conservancy in Cordova, feels that the $40 million would be better spent upgrading the harbor and restoring main street and investments that would be beneficial to the community in these climate changing times.
Carol Hoover, executive director of the Eyak Preservation Council, also voiced concerns. She questioned the real overall cost of the project, which she estimated would far exceed the amount of the federal grant. She also questioned the potential danger of avalanches and landslides in the area of the project, which she said cannot be effectively mitigated. And deep draft barges can as come alongside the ocean dock in Cordova now as needed, she said.