The trustees council appointed to oversee the spending of $900 million in Exxon settlement money to restore natural resources damaged by the 1989 oil spill lumbered off to an uncertain start at its first public meeting Thursday night.
The panel of three state and three federal representatives:
* Voted itself into existence;
* Decided to appoint a subgroup of bureaucrats and experts, complete with a new acronym, to map out plans;
* Dismissed talk that council members already have met on the sly, vowing to bring the public into their planning and decision-making in the future; and,
* Recessed into a closed meeting today to do its first serious business hiring someone to run the show.
It is unknown who is being considered for the job of executive director, and panel members didn't have much of an idea Thursday how much he or she might be paid.
The council planned to meet at 1 p.m. today somewhere in the Hilton Hotel to work out those details, said Carl Rosier, commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Game and one of three state representatives on the six- member trustees council.
The members of the trustees council gave themselves a deadline of the end of next week to designate people to a "Resource Restoration Coordination Group," or RRCG. It has been handed the job of telling the trustees council what is known already about the effects of the oil spill.
The RRCG also should figure out the best ways to allow public comment on restoration plans and pick "a series of issues for the public to shoot at," said Curtis McVee, who is Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan's special assistant for Alaska. McVee is one of the three federal members on the trustees council.
The council will meet again Dec. 19, somewhere in Anchorage, hopefully at a site where the meeting can be teleconferenced, said Attorney General Charlie Cole, who chaired Thursday's meeting.
The council also agreed to create a public advisory group. The details of what groups would be represented on the advisory panel and how it would influence decisions are yet to be decided.
The members of the council said they hope to have some sort of operation up and going in 90 days.
The 100-or-so members of the public who attended Thursday's meeting at the Fairview Recreation Center urged them to move as quickly as possible.
Pamela A. Miller of the Wilderness Society said the council could begin buying up and protecting forest land this spring. Preserving the timberland is important for the recovery of wildlife affected by the spill, she said.
"We are concerned because there is logging going on in Prince William Sound right now," Miller said. Species like the marbled murrelet, which nest in old growth trees, were hard hit by the Exxon Valdez spill, she said.
Miller and David Janka, executive director of the Valdez-based Prince William Sound Conservation Alliance, were cautiously optimistic at the end of the first trustees council meeting.
"So far, so good," Janka said. "I'm impressed at how it seems like they are bringing the public in at the start."
But a lot remains to be seen, Miller said. "It seemed like this group wasn't clear what their mission was."
The state's half of the trustees council is held up Cole, Rosier and Commissioner of Environmental Conservation John Sandor.
The federal officials on the panel are McVee, Steven Pennoyer, regional director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Michael Barton of the U.S. Forest Service. Barton was weathered in at Juneau and sent a stand-in Thursday.