- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - The state has closed the Bethel office of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, citing budgetary issues and restructuring.

The DEC’s spill and response office in Bethel closed Dec. 31, just after the retirement of Bob Carlson, the sole DEC employee in Bethel, KYUK (http://is.gd/EVTtfE) reported.

Financial considerations played a role in the decision not to relocate someone to Bethel, said Steve Russell, the DEC’s environmental program manager in Anchorage. He said Carlson’s departure sped the process.

Spill prevention and response will now be handled out of Anchorage. Russell said his office already responds to Kodiak, Bristol Bay, the Aleutians and other communities off the road system. Adding the Yukon-Kuskokwim region is not that big of a deal, according to Russell.

“There are numerous flights a day to Bethel and we can get someone out there pretty quickly,” he said.

Carlson said the Bethel office closure will result in a tilting in favor of industry and a lower level of service for people in the region.

“The Department and particularly my program has a diminished view of the importance of rural Alaska and western Alaska in terms of needing to serve the communities out here on fairly small spills,” Carlson said.

It’s not enough to handle small spills by phone from Anchorage or other cities, he said.

“People, when they do have a spill, they don’t know how to clean it up, mostly they don’t and they need advice,” Carlson said. “And often they need hands-on assistance, you know, on-site assistance and that’s just not going to happen with offices located in Anchorage.”

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Information from: KYUK-AM, http://www.kyuk.org

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