Costly lesson still unresolved

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

All anniversaries are not cause for celebration.

It was 16 years ago Thursday when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, leaking 11 million gallons of oil and causing the biggest spill in U.S. history.

There have been a multitude of articles, studies and books done on the subject, which is unfortunately still timely because of ongoing litigation.

While federal and state governments settled their civil and criminal litigation in 1991, claims by private parties remain unresolved.

The delay is entangled in an already bogged-down court system. It's taking years to get Exxon to pay for its responsibilities, a process that's definitely gone on far too long.

It's becoming a moot point, too, as the company is making in interest enough to cover what is slated to be spent — $4.5 billion — on those most affected by the tragedy.

It's coming up on a year since Exxon appealed the decision on having to make those payments, but the briefs, filings and arguments continue — and most likely will for some time.

And so do the effects of the spill.

Oil is lingering in the sound. Volunteers are showing signs of illness related to exposure. Wildlife is slow to recover — some species have not recovered at all.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes, there is. Although nothing can ever replace what's been killed, ruined or damaged, what has evolved is a safer future, not only for Southcentral Alaska, but also for the state.

The rules and regulations have changed, tankers are being tracked by satellite, escorted through narrows, partially navigated by trained marine pilots, required to be double-hulled — all positive changes.

Two more positive results are the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet regional citizens' advisory councils, whose responsibility it is to give the residents of those areas a voice and promote environmentally safe marine transportation and oil facility operations in the sound, the inlet and the Gulf of Alaska.

It's clear we have learned valuable lessons. Unfortunately, the cost was great — for nature, man and Exxon.

Our hope is this event will be a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy, and is never again repeated — anywhere.

As Mother Nature handed resi-

dents on the Kenai Peninsula a subtle reminder this week that winter is still with us, it's easy to forget how quickly things are melting this time of year. What once was a solid lake, pond or puddle may appear safe, but beware!

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge already has been closed to snowmachiners because of thinning conditions. Most bodies of water were becoming unsafe, and there was a report of vehicles breaking through shallow spots on Hidden Lake.

Stories like that serve as a warning. But not all of them have safe endings.

It was a year ago that Adrien Doxsee lost his life after the truck he was driving across Skilak Lake fell through with his son and their dog inside. Adrien managed to save the boy and dog, but succumbed to the elements when he attempted to go for help.

Alaska's weather can be deceiving — especially this time of year. We're all looking forward to warmer weather, but it will be here soon enough.

In the meantime, watch your step.

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