A photo of my longtime friend Steve Smith by Al Grillo of the Associated Press says a lot. Steve, now 69, was 49 when Exxon's ship, the Exxon Valdez, spilled its cargo - its GUTS - out all over the most beautiful place God ever created.
In the 19 years since the spill, Cordova has aged more than any other place devastated by Exxon's negligence. The town that had fought against construction of the pipeline, had predicted the spill, has suffered the most.
I lived in Cordova for almost four years, on Prince William Sound for almost eleven, from early 1973 to late 1983, when Judy and I moved to the Mat-Su Valley to start a family.
My son, born while the spill was spreading, is in college now. His entire life, this gem of gems, Prince William Sound, and this gem of communities, Cordova, have been less than they could have been, because of the spill's devastation.
In May, 1977, I attended a conference in Anchorage. At the time, I was Whittier Harbormaster. One of the panels at the conference was on the proposed tanker vessel traffic separation zones. I was on the panel, along with one of Steve Smith's closest friends, Pete Isleib, Cordova and Bristol Bay fisherman, and Southcentral Alaska's leading ornithologist.
Pete, when asked to comment on the separation zones, said simply and calmly, "Ultimately, these won't matter. Within ten years of the opening of the pipeline, a tanker will fetch up, and spill its oil. It will be Seal Rocks, or Johnstone Point, or Bligh Reef or Potato Point. Most likely, Bligh Reef. That's where it always happens."
Pete's was such an interesting statement, I wrote it down as closely as I could in my conference notes. Just short of twelve years later, as the Exxon Valdez was headed down Valdez Arm in search of its fate, oceanographer Rikki Ott stated at a public meeting in Cordova, "it's not a matter of if, but of when."
Pete is one of the litigants who have passed on. Steve Smith is in Washington, DC right now, along with several other Cordovans and our governor, watching this case unfold. It begins in one day.