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When the Oil Spilled

Emilie Springer brings us a story about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

This piece is based on an interview I did with a Cordova resident probably about 6 years ago to share some of his memories about the March 24, 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The name is removed because of the way the story was academically rather than socially published, but like many small towns, the person provided enough information that even listeners here may be able to tell who the speaker is. The way I usually did “community portraits” when still in school was simply to remove my questions from a full transcript, remove any extremely repetitive portions and publish the script in first-person of the speaker.

So, in memory of the 1989 event, here’s a story I can share from Cordova.

I consider Cordova my home, I have lived here for more than 25 years. What originally brought me here is kind of a long story in short my wife and I were Ocean Kayak guides in Prince William sound before we settled in 1987. We spent all summer out in the town from the beginning of May until the end of September every year. In the fall, we'd work at home doing graphic art and Fine Art of our own at that point. We were living in Anchorage. I taught cross-country skiing for the Municipality of Anchorage. There was a new ski school. But in the mid 80s there was kind of a downturn in the oil economy, which I know is kind of hard to believe. But the state is very tied to the oil industry currently and has been for years. So it was kind of a case of a falling tide lowers all vessels. People were losing money, even though they weren't directly connected to the oil industry people were leaving the state. They were walking away from mortgages they because they couldn't fight buyers. We weren't directly involved just small contracts doing fine art out of our home, but we got a lot of our jobs from ad agencies that had lots of work and weren't staff to take care of it all so they would contract it out to people like us and they weren't getting the work. So neither were we We had come to Cordova many times to see the bird migration here and had always admired the place when the bookstore became available. We decided to buy it because most of the economy for the community was based on fish, you know. We thought because of the fish we wouldn't be affected by the rest of the states woes and downturns in the oil industry if we moved here we'd be unaffected by adverse oil in facts. So we moved in 1987 two years before the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Now that makes me laugh it was kind of ironic but the spill didn't stop us from leaving. I like it here a lot and can compare it to some of the other mid-sized Alaska Coastal communities. Here's what I think about the last name impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Well, I got this little scar here on my forehead. Probably in 1972. I got it rock climbing. It's still there. It will be there until I die. It's just a little reminder of an event that happened a long time ago. That's just the way it is. It's not going to go away. I live with it. It doesn't hurt. It's not disfiguring but there it is. It's the same thing with the evos people were affected in direct proportion. To the amount of connection they had with the sound. A lot of people who had no connection to the sound thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. They could make a lot of money. They didn't really care about this place in Valdese. People were toasting Joe Hazelwood in the bars because the disaster brought so much money to so many people. That wasn't the case here The Villages were more severely affected because of literal subsistence and natural resource lower cash economy. Here that's not the case. We're just somewhere between Village Life and mainstream American. Monoculture. We fish but don't just eat fish. We sell it but we depend on a healthy environment for living just like the native people did. Everybody here was very seriously affected not just economically but also socially psychotic and psychologically.

This man put a lot of his earlier views of opinion on the side to tell me this one. In the book The Spill” Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster created by Sharon Bushell and Stan Jones this person tell a story that is much more personal and with much more detail but with a little bit of a different context. This piece doesn’t really say too much but it is certainly worth remembering the scar from the 1989 event and there are publications where listeners can find other memories from the spill.

This is Emilie Springer