Minutes before supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, before rocks ripped a huge hole in her hull and a geyser of crude oil darkened the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, the ship’s lookout burst through the chart room door. “That light, sir, it’s still on the starboard side. It should be to port, sir.” Her frantic words were merely the last in a litany of futile warnings.
The parade of ultimately unkept promises began the next day. President Frank Iarossi pronounced that the Exxon Shipping Company had “assumed full financial responsibility.” A week later, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper spoke at the Valdez Civic Center. “We don’t want anybody to think that they have to hire a lawyer and go into federal court and sue the largest corporation in America.”
Valdez native Bobby Day flew over the spill and realized his livelihood was in jeopardy. He struggled with feelings of betrayal and guilt and later, the tensions of a divided community. His intimate story lends a local perspective and conveys the damage inflicted upon individuals and the fishing industry.
In the end, lengthy investigations revealed cover ups, reckless management, numerous safety violations, and a broken regulatory process. Lawmakers aligned with businesses rather than citizens, and fishermen spent nearly twenty years in litigation. Despite a massive cleanup effort, oil remains on the beaches and continues to impact marine life.
Red Light to Starboard documents a story that stunned the world, recounts regional and national history, and explains how oil titans came to be entrusted with a spectacular, fragile ecosystem. It discusses the disaster’s environmental consequences as well as failed governmental and public policy decisions, and tracks changes that, through opportunities for citizen input and oversight, offer hope for the future.
Photographs / map / index / 272 pages (2014)