A look back at the early years of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council

One of the most radical innovations to come out of the Exxon Valdez spill was the establishment of permanent, industry-funded citizen oversight to promote the environmentally safe operation of the oil industry. It’s been 25 years since the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council was formed, and to mark that anniversary, The Observer begins a four-part series documenting the founding and early development of the council. Between 2007 and 2012, a series of interviews were conducted to capture the hopes and intentions of some of those who were most closely involved with the formation and early days of the council. These stories are in oral history format.
Cordova resident Riki Ott  (facing away from camera) speaks during a board meeting in September 1991. Board members pictured (left to right): Stan Stephens, Tim Robertson, and Bill Walker.

Cordova resident Riki Ott (facing away from camera) speaks during a board meeting in September 1991. Board members pictured (left to right): Stan Stephens, Tim Robertson, and Bill Walker.

Oral history is the practice of telling, recording, and preserving personal testimonies about the human experience. These stories are intended to help us understand the impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and how citizens rallied together to create an oversight group to protect Prince William Sound from future oil spills. Subjectivity is both the greatest strength and weakness of oral history; it can convey feelings and emotions linked to a specific time period, but the information may not be as accurate as other historical methods. As stated by Mark Hutton in his interview, “sometimes memories are colored by the hope of what you thought you were trying to do and not necessarily exactly the way it happened. Twenty years ago was a long time ago, and this is my best recollection.” The council is releasing these stories this year to commemorate 25 years of citizen oversight. As a preview, Observer readers will see a selection of quotes highlighted in the next few issues: Still to come this year:
  • May: Memories of the emotional turbulence of the first few years after the council was formed and how they learned to channel that emotion into a professional, effective organization
  • July: Thoughts on the positives and negatives of the way the council was organized
  • September: Lessons learned about the value of citizen oversight
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