ALASKA — Allan Skinner has 50 years of stories about people he has met during his federal career.
The regulatory specialist received a certificate Feb. 2 for 50 years of federal service from Col. Reinhard Koenig, the 13th commander to serve Alaska District since Skinner came onboard in 1974. He remembers that his first commander was Col. Charles Debelius, who drew cartoons of himself with large eagles on his shoulders for the district newsletter.
Skinner started his federal career in 1959 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in conservation from the University of Wisconsin. His first federal job was as an investigator/enumerator with the Commerce Department explaining the 1960 census. After working a year for his home state of Wisconsin, he re-entered federal service with the National Park Service, filling a series of seasonal ranger jobs in several states during the early 1960s.
In 1965, he took a permanent position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as chief ranger at the Lake Isabella Project on the Kern River in California. In 1967, he moved to the Corps' Huntington Lake project on the Wabash River in Indiana.
In 1974, Aurora Loss, a former distinguished employee, hired Skinner as an environmental protection specialist for Alaska District. He joined the seven-person permitting section of the Regulatory Operations Branch. Others in the office were Angie Murdock (now Gori), Dave McGillvery, Paul Chatari, Ken Avery and Randy Jacobs.
During his 38 years at the Alaska District, Skinner has seen permitting grow from a single office in room 112 of the district headquarters to become a Regulatory Division with more than 40 people occupying the ground floor of the headquarters building annex with field offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, plus a regulator in Sitka.
In 1974, the permitting section only regulated Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1977, and Alaska District started enforcing Section 404 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
For the first 10 years, Skinner worked on permits for log transfer facilities and remote logging float camps, mostly in Ketchikan and Sitka. He occasionally traveled to Southeast Alaska for permitting and compliance inspections.
"Our biggest handicap remains inaccessibility," Skinner said. "We rely on locals, often from sister agencies, to tell us about activities. We have to ask someone who has been there for information."
In the past year the Regulatory Division digitized all its records into a searchable database using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
"We ran Al's name through the database and found 500 documents with his name mentioned 1,258 times," said Bill Keller, North Branch chief and Skinner's supervisor for the past seven years. "He's always focused on the customer, and I've never had a customer complain about Al."
Skinner's fondest regulatory memories are road trips with Don Rice, who retired in 2010. After regulations were revised to include placer mining, Skinner and Rice drove to Eagle to explain the permitting process to placer miners.
Suddenly coming under the jurisdiction of a federal agency was unpopular with the independent miners. Thanks to Rice and Skinner's "good-old-boy-we're-here-to-help" approach, they had no trouble. One miner even invited them to his house and showed them a can full of gold nuggets that he sold to tourists. In the Native American village of Eagle, a resident offered them roasted porcupine. They declined.
"I've met a lot of nice people and just a couple of knuckleheads," Skinner said.
Although he has been working on computers for many years now, Skinner has minimal computer skills.
"Computers were after my time," he said. "I worked with slide rules and protractors."
He remembers when all public notices and permit records were sent to women in the Operations Branch to be typed. "We physically mailed all public notices," he said.
He remembered seeing Regulatory public notices posted in small town post offices next to the wanted posters. In those days, Alaska District had its own reproduction department, which printed all the public notices.
In 1977, Skinner won a district-wide contest sponsored by the Safety Office. For many years, district hard hats carried Skinner's winning logo, "I'm a Bear on Safety".
Despite all his years of service, despite all the changes, despite all his accomplishments, Allan Skinner has no immediate plans to retire.
"I know there are still a lot of stories to be told," Skinner said. "But most of all, I just enjoy the company of my co-workers and customers."