Approval from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers comes after more than 16 years of study
By The Cordova Times
An oil spill response facility at Shepard Point, a deep-water access site near Cordova, with access to the all-weather airport, has received construction approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Native Village of Eyak announced on Oct. 16.
Approval came after more than 16 years of study by federal and state agencies. The project has the support of NVE, Chugach Alaska Corp., the city of Cordova, the Eyak Corp. and Alaska’s congressional delegation, NVE officials said.
The facility was one of three such facilities outlined in a federal court approved consent decree to resolve litigation in the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Tribal leaders said that NVE took the lead in soliciting funds from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, and over the last two decades worked to design and redesign the facility to minimize and mitigate adverse environmental impacts of the project. They also said they were pleased with the Corps’ decision on location of the site as the preferred alternative, and that it is the only available site to locate a deep draft dock near Cordova that will allow for quick response to Prince William Sound in the event of an oil spill or other incident.
Once completed, the facility will significantly improve oil spill response times and allow for docking and resupply of the same type of deep-draft emergency response vessels that were employed for cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez disaster of March 24, 1989. It will allow large vessels from SERVS (Ship Escort/Response Vessel System) to dock during drills, regardless of tide.
The devastating impact of the disaster was a driving force behind the tribe’s efforts for construction of the new facility.
“The Native Village of Eyak saw our environment decimated during the spill,” said Darrel Olsen, NVE tribal council chairman. “We agree that Shepard Point, a naturally occurring deep water port with quick access to the sound, is the best place for the oil spill response facility.”
“We are pleased to be moving forward with this important facility after decades of study and discussion,” said Kerin Kramer, NVE’s executive director. “We know the residents of this area of Prince William Sound will be better protected with this facility in place.”
The facility will be accessible via a 4.5-mile single lane gravel road. Concerns about impact to vegetation, such as eelgrass and other relevant issues, led the tribe to take a step back and develop a new design for the road, to ensure that environmental impacts were minimized and mitigated, NVE said.
The dock will be pile driven to minimize fill requirements. Oil spill equipment, supplies, containers and storage units will be located at the Point to respond to a variety of spills much more quickly than other potential sites, including the aging Cordova city docks.
“The development of Shepard Point in Cordova will add a dedicated oil spill response facility to the area and to the direct benefit of Prince William Sound,” said Alan Lanning, Cordova city manager. “An asset such as Shepard Point will allow for an increased efficiency and effectiveness to any oil spill response and further utilize a deep water port, which does not currently exist.”
The Shepard Point facility is the last of three such facilities designated in the Exxon Valdez consent decree. The other two are already constructed.
Throughout this process, the Native Village of Eyak has focused on protection of the environment. NVE has focused on mitigating the impacts of the road and port facility. The road and response facility have been designed and redesigned to minimize impacts to fish streams, eelgrass and sub and intertidal area. Protection of the sound, while minimizing impacts of the port, have been NVE’s continued focus.
- Shepard Point allows for large deep draft vessels to load supplies
- A recent study shows that responding from the Shepard Point location can save 19 more miles of coastline than other places in the Inlet
- The location allows instant response to oil spills – there is no need to wait for tides to be able to deploy
- Allows road access to an all-weather major airport
- Provides large spill response vessels to dock during drills
- Empowers the Tribe to exercise self-determination to protect traditional lands and lifestyle
Partners in the process with NVE are Chugach Alaska Regional Corp., Eyak Corp., the state of Alaska, Federal Highway Administration, city of Cordova and Cordova Electric Cooperative.