From Dan Simon and Augie Martin, CNN
Cordova, Alaska (CNN) -- For third-generation fisherman John Platt, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill is a financial and psychological nightmare that won't end. Three years after the 11 million-gallon spill in Prince William Sound blackened 1,500 miles of Alaska coastline, the herring on which he and other Cordova fishermen heavily relied disappeared from the area. Platt and some others stuck around, fishing for salmon and hoping things would improve. The herring never returned to Cordova. Platt's income plummeted, severely straining his marriage and psyche. He dipped into his sons' college funds to support his family.
"I wasted 20 years of my life," he said. Platt and other people in the Alaskan village of about 2,500 people say they still are suffering economically and emotionally 21 years after the oil disaster. The herring loss alone has cost the region about $400 million over the past 21 years, according to R.J. Kopchak, a former fisherman who is now developmental director at Cordova's Prince William Sound Science Center. The average fisherman suffered a 30 percent loss in income after the spill, but those who specialized in just herring lost everything, Kopchak said.
The surface oil from the spill had largely disappeared within three years of the spill, according to studies conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration. But oil residue still can be found on the shore. "It is a lingering problem, as they say, with no easy solution," Kopchak said.
Money from Exxon hasn't made the fishermen's problems disappear. Besides the $2.5 billion that Exxon is estimated to have paid for the cleanup, it reportedly paid $300 million soon after the disaster to 11,000 fishermen, fish processors and others affected. In 1994, a federal jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, but appeals reduced that award to $507.5 million. Last year, a federal court ordered Exxon to also pay $470 million in interest on the punitive damages. Platt says he has received about $600,000 from Exxon. But most of it was used to clear liens on his fishing permits and boats, he said.
TPJ: This makes me think about all this talk about "cleaning up" these oil spills. We need to be careful when talking about "cleaning this up" because it will never be fully cleaned up, and after the cameras and journalists go away the people who live there can't as easily leave. Their whole lives are there in that region (families, friends, churches, schooling, etc) and their way of life, (whether it be fishing or farming) is all they know how to do.
It's good, honest work but even their strong traditions can't over-come a disaster like this. They're stuck in this oily nightmare for decades at least. Perhaps what's worse though is that the oil guys will have to go back to doing that dangerous and dirty job again because that's what they are trained in. Yet B.P. will recover and be back to making billions every time their CEO takes a breath that they'll be fine. They won't be the one's to feel the brunt of this disaster that they caused.
In a related note, as you know I adore animals and seeing all these sea turtles, birds and fish sick or dying because of this disaster makes me wonder if we can nail these oil bastards with animal cruelty laws. I bet we could. We should be hitting them with every charge we can think of but even then it wouldn't make up for this nightmare. The tooth paste (or oil in this instance) can't be put back into the tube.
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