New keeper program set to launch in state

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., head of Waterkeeper Alliance, visits state to launch organization

Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2005

KENAI - Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the national Waterkeeper Alliance, will join Alaskans this week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cook Inlet Keeper program.

Kennedy also is visiting Alaska to recognize a new keeper organization in Prince William Sound launched last year.

"Alaska's magnificent marine and coastal habitats support some of the most productive fisheries left in the United States," Kennedy said in a Cook Inlet Keeper news release. "That's why it's critical to promote policies that recognize the inherent links between sustainable fisheries, healthy families and strong communities."

Kennedy is expected to be the special guest on a cruise from Whittier to Blackstone Bay on Friday. The next day, he is scheduled to be keynote speaker at the Alaska Oceans Festival in Anchorage. On Sunday, Kennedy is slated to join Cook Inlet Keeper in Homer for the anniversary celebration.

Concerns about pollution led Alaskans to unite in 1995 to form the Cook Inlet Keeper.

A settlement with the oil and gas industry operators over more than 4,000 violations of the Clean Water Act helped kick start the program, which now employs trained field volunteers to monitor conditions across the Cook Inlet Watershed.

"Since its inception, Keeper has trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor water quality, successfully held corporations accountable for illegal pollution, protected hundreds of thousands of acres of beluga whale habitat and kept a close eye on the health of Cook Inlet salmon streams," said director Bob Shavelson.

Now a second keeper program in Alaska is joining Cook Inlet Keeper.

Late year, residents in Prince William Sound, site of the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, formed the Prince William Soundkeeper to help protect water quality, fisheries and sustainable communities there.

The two keeper programs will be freestanding but linked through a global network of water keepers called the Waterkeeper Alliance, operating throughout the U.S., Latin America, Australia and elsewhere, Shavelson said.

The Prince William program has been under discussion for at least five years and now is engaged in the hiring process for a director.

"When I look back at the success of the Cook Inlet Keeper, it's exciting to think about the prospects for other keepers throughout the state," Shavelson said.

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