Healy Gas Exploration BIF Creates Watershed for DCC?

DCC Reaches Another Watershed?

DNR Commissioner Tom Irwin’s decision to affirm the Final Best Interest Finding for Healy Basin Gas Only Exploration License creates a watershed moment for DCC in which the organization must choose carefully its future direction. While the DCC board is still examining opportunities to appeal the decision through the state court system, we must also be aware that legal action may not be possible or may fail. Then what?

DCC’s last watershed moment was 10 years ago in 2000. Faced with a seemingly endless stream of unfortunate public lands decisions outside of Denali National Park – from the Grande Denali driveway to the Kantishna Holdings rail bill and many others – the organization under the leadership of Nancy Bale made a dramatic change from its historic focus solely on the national park and broadened its area of concern to include conservation issues in surrounding public lands and communities. At the same time, DCC hired its first staff member – the part-time community organizer position we still maintain today – and set up an office, thus stepping up the organization’s ability to track issues, communicate with members and the public, organize educational events, and organize community responses. DCC’s effectiveness in addressing all sorts of issues, particularly those outside national park boundaries, increased markedly as a result.

What challenge does this 2010 watershed moment bring us? Natural gas exploration and development will bring with it a crushing work load and a great need for technical knowledge. Plans of operation will need to be reviewed to assure best practices are being implemented. Independent monitoring needs to occur to make sure the state and the developer are living up to the conditions in the permits. Property owners will want good information about their rights when negotiating surface use agreements. Legal action may be required. Denali Borough gas development ordinances will need to be defended and strengthened. Although DCC has a part-time staff person, most of the organization’s substantive work is still conducted by a volunteer board of directors who are more-than-maxed out with other issues. Who will do all of this work?

It is clear that if DCC is to take leadership on this issue, the organization needs to change again. For the first time we would need to hire technical help and engage the state at a much more detailed level than we have in the past. We would need to develop a much greater sophistication in legal and regulatory issues than we have needed before. We would need to be more visible as a resource for the entire community. All of this would require an extensive new fund-raising initiative which, frankly, is something that none of the board is that excited about. But what is the alternative?

We need to hear from you, our members, about what you feel DCC should do. Do we grow to meet this new challenge? Do we pull back, and refocus only on the national park? Is there another organization that would be a better leader on gas development? And if DCC should lead the way, are you willing to support us? Will you help provide the funds, will you show up at public meetings, will you help educate your neighbors? If we are to take this step, we need to hear from you about what you want DCC to do. Talk to any board member or e-mail nancy@denalicitizens.org.

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