A Call for EVOS Trustee Council Reform
Sheri Buretta, Chairman and President/CEO, Chugach Alaska Corporation, Nov. 25
The Chugach Region is still recovering from devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS). But despite the EVOS Trustee Council’s clear mandate to restore spill-affected areas (which has not been accomplished), they recently proposed four resolutions that only serve to advance the council’s misguided agenda to “spend down” the remaining EVOS funding with minimal oversight, transparency and public participation. Their agenda ignores viable alternatives, such as The Think Tank’s proposal to adopt an endowment model that would extend the lifetime of the remaining funds to mitigate long-term impacts in the spill-impacted areas.
We owe it to our shareholders to support the continued path towards restoration of natural resources and future health of our communities, tribes and peoples. For that to happen, the EVOS Trust must be managed responsibly for the long-term benefit of generations to come.
Read on to learn more about this issue and how you can get involved.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) discharged approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. The oil spill affected the land, water, and wildlife and had a devastating effect on the people of the Chugach region who rely on and value those natural resources for economic, aesthetic and subsistence use.
In the wake of the spill, a portion of Exxon’s punitive damages included a $900 million settlement paid to the state and federal government. The EVOS Trustee Council, comprised of three state and three federal representatives, was formed in 1991 to oversee the settlement for the purposes of restoring the spill area’s injured ecosystem, including the human services that were impacted by the spill.
Prior to making expenditure decisions, the Trustee Council must consider input from the Public Advisory Committee, and the Federal trustees must obtain consent from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Despite the Council’s clear mandate to restore spill-affected areas (which has not been accomplished), the Trustee Council has embarked on plans to “spend down” the entire remainder of the funds and dissolve the Trustee Council.
Chugach believes that the current structure for administering EVOS is expensive, inconsistent, bureaucratic and lacks transparency. We believe the Trustee Council can, and should, do better.
The Think Tank’s proposal is just one of many possible alternatives to the current model. By moving to an endowment model (similar to a private university or foundation), The Think Tank approach extends the lifetime of the remaining funds while also reducing administrative fees. As such, those funds would be preserved in perpetuity to support efforts to mitigate long-term impacts in the spill-impacted area.
The members of the EVOS Trustee Council briefly considered the proposal, but entrenched in their bureaucracies, they dismissed it with less than 10 minutes of consideration during a formal vote at their October meeting and without exploring meaningful public input from those in the spill impacted communities.
The Think Tank’s proposed plan is just one of many viable alternatives to the current EVOS Trust model. The New Vision for EVOS proposal outlines how the remaining monies could be used more efficiently if they are transferred to the Alaska Community Foundation (ACF), an organization better equipped to manage and distribute these resources than the current administration. This new method of disbursement would also reduce administrative costs from nearly half of every dollar to just 7 cents . That means significantly more funding available to direct to communities and research. That also means benefits in perpetuity when managed correctly as opposed to the current spend down plan.
The New Vision for EVOS proposal supports the following key concepts:
The four resolutions proposed by the EVOS Trustee Council are out for a 60-day public comment period. If approved, these resolutions would advance the EVOS Trustee Council’s agenda to spend down the funds by eliminating the annual Trustee Council public meeting and funding process, another by allowing the Trustee Council to approve multi-year projects, a third to combine the habitat and research sub-accounts and a fourth to amend the 1994 Restoration Plan to incorporation an ecosystem approach to the oil spill boundary, which would allow projects to be funded outside of the spill boundary.
You can read more about the resolutions and voice your concerns here.
Chugach, our communities in the Chugach Region, and our lands were among those most devastated by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Chugach’s communities include, Port Graham, Nanwalek, Seward, Cordova, Tatitlek, Chenega, and Valdez, and are all within the Spill Affected Area.
The oil spill devastated the Chugach region and communities by:
We are resilient people and in the 31 years since the oil spill we have taken steps to rebuild our communities, but the resources and services in the Chugach region have never fully recovered.
It has been 30 years since the EVOS, which devastated the Chugach region and communities. After the spill, the EVOS Trustee Council chose not to spend Exxon “damage reparations funds” to help Chugach villages and residents recover from the spill. Instead, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire surface estate lands from most of the Chugach Region’s Village Corporations – who were in dire economic straits because of the spill – placing those purchased lands into state or federal ownership.
Unfortunately, as a result of EVOS purchases in the name of “habitat protection” to mitigate the oil spill, 243,000 acres of Chugach subsurface estate, now lies under federal or state surface estate. This makes development of Chugach’s subsurface rights in those areas extremely difficult and controversial. and as we start to pursue development opportunities on our lands, the split estate with Federal land ownership and conservation easements creates conflicts. It requires a longer and more extensive permitting process and becomes more expensive because of the EVOS management requirements and covenants.
That’s also why passage of the Chugach Lands Study Act (part of the Conservation, Management and Recreation Act) is such a significant milestone for the corporation, as it opens the door to a potential land exchange opportunity for Chugach.
We encourage all Alaskans to voice their concerns with the EVOS Trustee Council now. The public is invited to submit their comments online through December 16, 2020, 11:59 p.m. AST.
You can read more about the four proposed resolutions and voice your concerns here.
Review our webpage information to learn more about this issue and how it impacts the Chugach community.
Make your voice heard by providing your comments at the link below. All comments are due by Dec. 16, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. AST.
Our voices are amplified when they are united. Encourage other shareholders and communities to speak out on this issue.
Growing up in Prince William Sound, the oil spill represents without a doubt one of the most pivotal and determining events in our lives and what came after. Over 30,000 plaintiffs fought for justice for 19 years. Today, the EVOS Trust is charged with restoration in the region and benefits for the people and communities. Nearly $200 million remains in the Trust. The Trustees put forward a resolution to eliminate the annual meeting requirement. How any leaders responsible for the proper and effective stewardship of millions of dollars can propose zero meetings per year astounds me. Even the smallest nonprofits in my hometown have monthly board meetings. As a child raised by Cordova and our fishing fleet - a fleet that has worked so hard to survive and rebuild since 1989 - I firmly believe that the EVOS Trust and its Trustees can and must do better. The time is now that communities must hold them accountable and demand better process, access, and fairness.
Hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on scientific research but almost no funding has been used to help the communities whose economic and cultural livelihoods were devastated by the spill. Today, the very communities who 30 years ago were washing oil from the rocks on their beaches have not recovered. This is not right.
I am from Seward and saw first-hand the impacts of the spill on our small community. The devastation to the environment and the economic impacts caused by the spill were horrific. The EVOS trustee council has an opportunity to envision the future of the settlement trust funds to enact meaningful change that would benefit the people, communities and ecosystem in the spill-impacted region, and to finally provide long-term benefits to the Alaska native communities most impacted by the spill. The spend-down plan is just wrong and ignores the injustice that has taken place for decades with less than 1% of the settlement funds flowing to Native villages and interests in the spill zone.
People often recollect traumatic moments in their life. For me it was March 24, 1989, the day of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I will never forget the feeling of dread, grief and pain as I watched the wave of black death spread upon the shores of our homelands and precious way of life that it left in its wake. To add to this trauma was the absurd idea that selling our homelands to the EVOS Trustee Council in order for them to give it back to the government to protect it from our development was somehow justified. And that we were not qualified to be involved in their “science” of restoration. Fast forward 30 years and it only gets worse from the standpoint of participation from the most directly effected communities, economies and people of the Exxon Valdez Oil spill.