Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

Washington car crash kills Juneau man

JUNEAU - Local civil engineer Vern Hirsch Jr. died Oct. 29 in an automobile accident in Vancouver, Wash.

Hirsch had gone to Seattle for the national convention of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said his friend Sid Morgan of Juneau.

"Then he went to visit his mother and brother in Eugene, Ore. He was driving back in a rented car. They think he just fell asleep at the wheel on I-5," Morgan said.

The vehicle went off into the median and struck a tree. Hirsch apparently died instantly, Morgan said.

Hirsch, 57, moved to Juneau at age 10. He worked for 33 years for the state Department of Transportation. Much of his design work centered on bridges, including the Douglas Bridge, and ferry system shore facilities. Most recently, he was employed part time with Wilson Engineering Inc.

Group wants more scrutiny at tanker port

ANCHORAGE - A citizen's oil watchdog group wants more intense oversight of the huge tanker port at Valdez after a series of dangerous incidents over the past two weeks. Those incidents include a spark on the deck of an oil tanker before loading, powerful vibrations in valves used to load ships, and severe overheating in a motor next to an oil storage tank.

They prompted a special meeting of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council on Tuesday. The council's board unanimously approved a resolution requesting that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. hire outside experts to oversee all Valdez operations and maintenance.

The council was formed after the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989. It wants the outside group at Valdez until Alyeska completes work on Berth No. 4, a loading dock currently down for repairs. The RCAC also wants an independent examination of all Valdez operations. "I'm very concerned about the terminal," said Stan Stephens, an RCAC board member and Valdez resident. "Incidents like these make me feel like it's ... 1989."

Greg Jones, who heads Alyeska's Valdez operations, expressed some doubts about the usefulness of an audit or having a team monitoring Alyeska's daily operations. The company already has an outside company examining operations to prepare for the upcoming renewal of its permit to run the pipeline across federal land. "I don't want to end up duplicating efforts," Jones said.

But Jones didn't dispute the seriousness of the incidents. "We view this as very serious. In Valdez, we're trying to air these problems out in the sunlight, learn our lessons," Jones said.

Alyeska runs the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Valdez tanker port. Alyeska is owned by six major oil companies, including BP, Exxon and Phillips.

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