Cordova Times Opinion Piece

Bringing environmental safety to our region of Prince William Sound

by the Native Village of Eyak

After nearly 20 years of study, discussion, public comment, and plan revision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit to construct the Shepard Point Oil Spill Response Facility, to help protect our land, wildlife, sealife and waters.

This decision was generated by the Exxon Valdez consent decree, which stipulated that deep water ports would be established for the three primary villages impacted by the spill – these are Chenega, Tatitlek, and the Cordova area.

To date, the other two facilities have been constructed. The Native Village of Eyak stepped forward, with support from our regional corporation and others, and began facilitating the process, so we could assure our members and neighbors that in the event of another spill, we would all be protected.

For those not familiar with the multi-year process that has led to the Corps decision, several alternative sites were studied, and significant work was performed to determine the viability of those sites, the environmental impacts and how they could be mitigated, and ultimately, what would work best to quickly deploy necessary resources in the event of a spill.

First, the port needed to be a deepwater port that did not require dredging, which is an impact on the environment, in and of itself. Shepard Point is the only alternative the Federal Government studied that fit that bill.

During the environmental studies, the Native Village of Eyak has worked to protect the environment and ensure all impacts could be mitigated. The road and response facility have been designed and redesigned to minimize impacts to fish streams, eelgrass and sub and intertidal areas.

Protection of Prince William Sound, while minimizing environmental impacts has always been our focus.

Let’s look at the positives of the Corps’ decision to place the response facility at Shepard Point:

  • A recent study shows that responding from Shepard Point can save 19 more miles of coastline than other locations in the inlet
  • Shepard Point allows instant response to oil spills – there is no need to wait for the tide
  • The road from Shepard Point, provides access to the all weather airport in Cordova in the event additional workers or supplies are needed
  • Large spill response vessels can dock at the port during drills and to bring in and take out needed equipment
  • Most important to the Native Village of Eyak, we are empowered to exercise self-determination

This process has included other partners, who have been involved throughout – they are Chugach Alaska Regional Corporation, the Eyak Corporation, the State of Alaska, Federal Highway Administration, the City of Cordova and Cordova Electric Coop.

With this permit, the Native Village of Eyak can move forward with this important project and protect the region our ancestors, and those who come after us, for decades to come.