News: Anchorage Daily News, August 5, 2002, p. B-1

Pipeline renewal drawing comments
LEASE Cordova residents protest at meeting, saying there is a rush to renew.

By Liz Ruskin
Washington -- With the 30-year lease for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline corridor nearing expiration, government agencies are seeking public comment on what should happen next.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the industry-owned company that operates the line, wants the right-of-way lease renewed for another three decades.

In an emotional meeting last week in Cordova, residents demanded more time to study a recent report on how renewing the lease would affect the environment and people.

"The town was united against the process," said Carol Hoover, of the Eyak Preservation Council.

Several environmental and Native groups have also asked for more time. The Bureau of Land Management has decided to stick to the preset schedule, however.

The environmental impact report is long and public interest in the pipeline is keen, acknowledged BLM Director Kathleen Clarke in a written statement issued last week. But, she said, more comment time isn't warranted for a pipeline that has been in use for 25 years.

"This is not a new construction project with alternate routes and major new impacts," she said.

In Cordova last week, many people said they fear that public concern over a future spill is being shoved aside in a rush to renew the leases, Hoover said. About 60 people attended the meeting, and 25 or 26 spoke. Grief over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and skepticism of the oil industry were evident in many of their comments.

"Over and over again, people got up who had experienced the (Exxon) oil spill," Hoover said.

The reaction in Valdez last week, where the pipeline terminal dominates the local economy, could hardly have been more different.

Only about eight people spoke at the brief Tuesday hearing, and three of those had already spoken in Cordova, according to Rhea DoBosh, spokeswoman for the Joint Pipeline Office, the federal-state agency that oversees the pipeline.

Other Valdez speakers complained about the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, which DoBosh said is not relevant to the lease renewal.

The hearings are part of a series of statewide public comment sessions on the draft environmental impact statement and other lease-renewal documents.

The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. today in the Denali Room of the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. Meetings will be in Fairbanks, Minto and Barrow later in the week.

The 45-day public comment period ends Aug. 20.

Technically, the government could refuse to renew the lease and require Alyeska to remove the pipeline, but virtually no one thinks that will happen.

Instead, critics of the pipeline's operation see the lease renewal as an opportunity to impose new conditions that they say will lessen the likelihood of a disastrous spill.

Richard Fineberg, an Ester economist, has written a report for the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility suggesting six conditions, including the establishment of a citizens oversight group.
Most of the speakers in Cordova argued for Fineberg's
recommendations or for an extended comment period, DoBosh said.

"Just about everybody said about the same thing," she said.

Virtually all of the comments will be addressed in some fashion, she said.

Alyeska spokesman Curtis Thomas said that the pipeline company didn't set the timetable and that the extension decision was all the BLM's.