The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

Spill drill training in Cordova kicks off week of RCAC board meeting

Change in SERVS contractor service addressed by directors last Thursday


Tony Gorman photo

Crew members of the F/V St. Andrew demonstrated spill response capabilities last week off of the shores of Cordova.

The group tasked with monitoring oil traffic on the waters of Prince William Sound was busy last week.

Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council kicked off its week in Cordova with a tour of Ship Escort Response Vessel System (SERVS) training and ended with the PWRCAC Board of Director's Meeting in Valdez.

On Monday, PWSRCAC and the Alyeska Pipeline Company invited the public to observe SERVS on the Sound. It was the second consecutive year that the two entities teamed up for such an event. Last year, the tour was held in Seward. This year, it was held in Cordova, the largest port in the Sound. The group consisted of PWSRCAC board members and staff, Alyeska staff, Cordova residents, and students from Cordova Middle School.

Brooke Taylor, the group's spokesperson, says it's always great to have students participating in the program.

"Some of these kids are going to grow up and be participants in the program," Taylor said. "For them to understand at an early age why being in this local program is extra important is going to help them in future things that they might do. But, it also helps them understand in how important communities are in this process."

Every year, 450 to 500 vessels participate in the SERVS program. It operates at six ports within Prince William Sound and downstream communities. Two-hundred vessels operate in Cordova. There are so many vessels in Cordova that it takes two sessions (one in the spring before fishing season and one in the fall after fishing season) to train them. The commercial fishermen involved are also required to take courses before hitting the water.

As part of the on-water tour, the groups observed every aspect of the program from crews working on a barge to using boom to contain potential spills.

Roy Robertson is the drill monitoring project manager for PWSRCAC, and he was in Seldovia at the time of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. He says oil spill response has improved since the disaster.

"In '89 they had one wall-storage barge that had hole in it and was on the beach in Valdez. The majority of their equipment was stored in an area where they couldn't get it out," Robertson said. "Now we have a system that has multiple open water barges and a near-shore that's dedicated for sensitive areas and near shore tasks forces that are available to operate."

Over time, protocol in oil spill response has changed. At the annual PWSRCAC Board of Directors meeting in Valdez, the discussion of change continued. The highlight of the two-day meeting came Thursday afternoon when updates given on marine services contract transition between Crowley and Edison Chouest. As part of the process, four new general purpose tugs, five new escort tugs, a Ross Chouest Utiilty tug, and four new response barges are under construction at five different locations in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Edison Chouest will own and operate the existing response barge 500-2. It will also operate tugs Mineral Creek, Sawmill Creek, Allison Creek and Valdez Star.

"The intention at this point based on the construction point of the vessels is to begin to have one vessel of each class, so, an escort tug, a general purpose tug, and a response barge, in Prince William Sound the latter part of the first quarter of 2018," said Mike Day, Alyeska/SERVS operation manager.

He said tug and barge demonstrations are tentatively scheduled for February or March of next year. They are expected to phase in the rest of the fleet by June 2018. Contingency plans for the tugs are expected to be submitted later this month.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, with offices in Anchorage and Valdez, is an independent non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and the oil tankers that use it. The council's work is guided by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and its contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The council's 18 member organizations are communities in the region affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as aquaculture, commercial fishing, environmental, Native, recreation, and tourism groups.


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