|The Long Road to Recovery: Community Responses to Industrial Disaster (UNU, 1996, 307 pages)|
|8 The Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska|
|The oil spill: Community impact|
The range of concerns, irritations, and benefits varied greatly among the affected towns during the summer of 1989. Polarizations, between those who worked for Exxon or its contracted service organization VECO Inc. and those who did not, set people against each other in new ways. Many looked favourably on opportunities to make large sums of money ($16.69 an hour) on clean-up activities, or to charter their boats (up to $6,000 a day), or to provide other well-paid services. Those not hired, or who spurned Exxon or VECO, scorned their neighbours who accepted the employment. If a fisherman or any local resident wanted to make money, the opportunity generally was available. If, on the other hand, a fisherman refused to work for the oil company that was perceived as being responsible for the mess, then he was doubly penalized - he lost the chance to make money from the clean-up and he also lost expected income from fishing areas that were closed because of fears about oil contamination. Disagreements among the fishermen were intense and painful. Lack of resolution, combined with a sudden decline in chum salmon during the summer of 1993, led frustrated fishermen to block tanker traffic on Valdez Arm in a desperate attempt to force a discussion with Exxon about their claims. Litigation, and decline in fish stocks, prices, and permit value, have unquestionably slowed recovery for this segment of the population.
As a community, Cordova appears to have suffered the greatest disruption for the longest time and gained the least. Before 1989 it was already a conflict-ridden town; the oil spill may just have offered a new arena for traditional hostilities and exacerbated some of the old problems. But this may also be a misreading of the evidence because more data have been gathered - and made available - on Cordova than on other towns (Picou et al. 1992; Dyer, Gill, and Picou 1992; Reynolds 1993).
Nevertheless, the sources of dispute in Cordova were many: they included the fishermen's willingness or unwillingness to help; inequities of hire by Exxon and Veco; closure of the fishing season; a sudden decline in the number and price of chum salmon, from 40 cents a pound in 1990 to 12 in 1991; decline of fish permit values; the suicide of Cordova's Mayor (Enge 1993); protracted litigation; the fishermen's boycott of oil tankers in August 1993; and the announcement, in September 1993, that 74 of the boycotting boats might face fines from the Coast Guard. Clearly, during 1993, the fishermen from Cordova had not recovered. For many, as reported by Reynolds (1993), "the 1989 oil spill was still an unfolding disaster. Spillrelated problems, fears, and conflicts were widespread." And they still are.
Conditions were different in Valdez. Here, the community was inundated by people, goods, guards, media, and traffic. The oil industry had long been a mainstay of the community and most people had benefited directly or indirectly from the presence of the Alaska pipeline terminus. As the clean-up progressed, there was a massive convergence of people and materials on Valdez. Everyone who wanted to work, could. New bed and breakfast accommodations were opened. People rented their extra bedrooms; some even rented their whole houses and left the state. But, as the population climbed from 2,500 to 10,000, the strain was too much, even for a town that claimed to be accustomed to similar fluctuations. Local residents found they had to forego eating out in restaurants, baby sitters, visiting friends, and going to baseball games. Even the traditional Gold Rush Day celebrations were cancelled in 1989. By July 1990, local people were out of patience with the oil spill and its aftermath; the town had the exhausted feeling that comes with being in a war zone (Robbing, E. 1993).
Seward, like Valdez, was accustomed to increased traffic brought by seasonal tourism, but to nothing like that experienced during the summer of 1989. Unlike some other communities, people in Seward took control of the situation before oil actually approached the area (US DOI 1993a, 1993b).
Of all the impacts on Alaskan towns the uproar in Kodiak is perhaps the most thoroughly documented (Impact Assessment Inc. 1990; US DOI 1993a, 1993b; see, especially, Endter-Wada et al. 1993). Kodiak processes the third-largest volume of fish of any port in North America, and, although little oil reached the town, extensive disruption did.
In summary, the impacts of Exxon Valdez on the communities of southern Alaska varied greatly. Towns and villages experienced different levels of threat; different volumes of oil, and different degrees of contamination; different amounts of access to money and other clean-up benefits; and differences in the quantity and quality of research that was accomplished.