An Opinion from Alaska
- joe roth

    i was asked to make some comments about the possible harpswell natural gas terminus and pipeline, as i am a lifelong alaskan and thus have benefited greatly from the largess of our state's oil wealth, and lived for 5 years in valdez which has seen both the benefits and the destruction that oil can bring -- if one agrees to have oil companies in your neighborhood you need to seriously look at these pluses and minuses, and how to get the most benefit with the least cons

    i would like to start by acknowledging my bias - i feel that all corporations would leave us in a lurch given a chance - what i mean by that is that they would leave us with a "love canal" and deny it to their dying days if at all possible -- if it were not for oversight -- i feel that that oversight is the responsibility of the government (because i do not believe/trust corporations to do it themselves) - we pay taxes (this includes corporations) to have this unbiased review of the process - i feel that currently the government is paying only lip service to the concerns of communities with regard to regulation of corporations/industries -- i would also like to state, in imperfect legalese, that these are my opinions and my opinions alone, based on feeling and gestalt  (i give this disclaimer because i would not put it past the oil companies to try and choke out any open discourse about them)

    the community of valdez realized early on that the oil companies were only going to stay in valdez temporarily (20-40 years) they therefore decided to set up their own "permanent fund" into which they put a large chunk of their yearly revenues (from property taxes)- this fund is managed by a team of professionals and is currently worth over 80 million dollars - all the earnings of this fund are run back into it at the current time - the town of valdez has a population of around 4200 and the majority of them work in conjunction with the oil industry - it is felt that when the oil runs out a lot of these people will leave and the town budget will shrink with the shrinking population -- i feel that this (the rainy day fund) is a very good idea and you should seriously think about doing something like it - (i would think that the folks at the city of valdez would be willing to discuss this with you ad nauseum) ------ where i think this needs work lies in the nature of us all - when valdez started this they had something around a 4mil tax - currently they are near, or at, a 20mil tax - as the property value of the oil infrastructure has dropped off the city has tried to keep a positive cash flow and to do so they have had to increase their tax rate (the 20mil tax i believe is based on that being the max the state will allow the city to tax the oil companies) -- there are many people who believe, and i am one of them, that the city of valdez was lacking in foresight when they did not start off with a higher mil rate initially as it would have filled the permanent fund quickly, and then they could have backed off the mil rate later if so desired - of course who wants to tax themselves more than necessary and the money seemed to be pouring in -- the other little dilemma was that the state went into closed door negotiations with the oil companies and determined the amortization/depreciation of the infrastructure without the input of the community of valdez ------ so the mil rate went up to compensate ---

     also valdez has instituted a "tanker tax" - this means any big vessel going through their waters pays a hefty fee - the oil companies cried foul, and i believe it was in court for i while but i think most of them are paying it now - and i think it brings in more than 7 million/year - part of the cities reason for instituting this user fee (as our governor would call it) was because the city did not feel that the oil companies were willing to cough off their fair share of the costs of running the city-- this is another good idea in my mind and i would set it up right away (not 20 years later like valdez did)

    i am sure that the oil companies will say that they already pay their fare share, and more - however the fact of the matter is that the majority of the people in valdez work for them, or one of their spin offs and so they should provide for that extra burden that they place upon the city - as well as providing for their employees and their families

    the downside of the oil industry can be devastating - everyone knows about the exxon valdez oil spill -- 15 years ago this spring - exxon says they have done their part to clean it up and it wasn't really their fault (of course government oversight had fallen off at that time - just like now) - the jury said otherwise and exxon continues to appeal the court decision and the damages (which they call excessive) - i am sure they plan to litigate this to the ends of the world -- i am sure they would disagree, but most scientific inquiry in prince william sound continues to show the effects of oil damage (you can still find oil on some beaches if you dig down, and fishermen say that stocks have not returned to pre-spill numbers

    other things to think about with regards to the oil spill include the impact on the community - the was no real organized response initially - even though a lot of money was thrown at the problem - the town was flooded with people working the oil spill, or looking for work - the spill response effort put their equipment wherever they wanted (it didn't matter if it was a vacant lot or the newly seeded park) - they went into the local drugstore and bought out all the first aid supplies (in spite of the objections of the manager who pointed out that a lot of it wasn't appropriate for the situation and it also left the community without any first aid supplies) --- the local hospital was overwhelmed - people came in claiming to work for the spill response/or claiming to work related injury - the 2 physicians were basically running a 24 hour clinic --- in the end the physicians got very burnt out and the hospital, and physicians lost over 50,000 dollars ------ these are the things that kind of get in your craw, but i think they can be dealt with --- the community needs a disaster plan that the oil industry agrees to - one that includes appropriate use of resources and who pays for what -- the spill response should have brought in their own clinic, or should had aided the community hospital by bringing in a couple more physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants - as well as a couple more people to assist the hospital with billing/admitting , not to mention a few more nurses -- again i think it would behoove you to speak to the folks in valdez about how to deal with a spill -- currently i think their spill response team out mans the number of people working at the oil terminal - but i am not sure how it looks at this time

    other negative impacts to the community include the whims of management - valdez's population fluctuates according to where the ceo thinks people should be -- when we lived there they had just decided to move a lot of people back out of anchorage and to valdez and fairbanks - housing got really tight and property values soared -- right before we left, and even more so after leaving, the current ceo reorganized again and moved a lot of people back to anchorage - leaving valdez with depressed property values and empty houses (most long timers in valdez see this a chronic recurrent problem and just sit it out) --- of course this leads to problems in knowing how many teachers to hire from year to year, etc... not to mention the problems it causes families who have to uproot, grow accustomed to, then uproot again (i used back out and back to in bold to emphasize that this is not a one time deal) --- along with these upheavals come the many people who really HATE living in valdez - no malls, bowling alleys, movie theatres, etc... they peule and they vote and get some of their agendas pushed before they leave in 3 years

    ah i am running out of steam - but my basic message is - if you decide to allow them into your home do not let them take it over -- tax them to the hilt, tax their tankers, have contingency planning for disasters and make them toe the line with regards to it -- talk to the city of valdez, the city of kenai and nikiski, and the citizen advisory council (prince william sound rcac for which the oil companies pay) - and do not trust them farther than you can throw one of their tankers ----- joe roth