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Oil Damage To Sound Like Death In Family

April 2, 1989

CORDOVA, Alaska (AP) _ After a massive oil spill fouled Prince William Sound, Linden Colour O’Toole searched the town’s few stores for dye to make hundreds of black armbands.

″We wore the armbands because we wanted the world to know that for this town, the spill is a death in the family,″ said O’Toole, who fishes the sound with her husband.

Unable to find enough dye, she ripped up old black clothes she found in her church basement.

She did her part to help this town on the edge of Prince William Sound prepare for an invasion of network TV crews that began after an Exxon Corp. oil tanker ran aground 25 miles from Valdez, the southern end of the Alaskan pipeline.

More than a week after the Exxon Valdez spewed 10 million gallons of North Slope crude, Cordova is a town in shock.

Its 3,000 people, who live in a jumble of colorful houses perched on a rocky hillside, have carved a tiny paradise with the sound’s rich bounty of salmon and herring. The town has beaten back pressure from the proponents of ″progress″ to build a road to the outside world.

But as winds and currents continue to spread the crude through the sound’s fragile island ecosystem of salmon spawning and feeding grounds, Cordovans fear they’re seeing a paradise lost.

″The fish were here for us long before the oil, and God willing, it will be here when the oil is gone,″ said E.J. Cheshier, a second-generation Prince William Sound fisherman.

″You see, Cordovans were against the pipeline terminal being in Prince William Sound from the beginning,″ he said. Townspeople demanded that oil companies transport what is now 25 percent of America’s domestic oil production from a less environmentally sensitive area.

″My Dad and some of the other old guys went back to Washington in the early ’70s to protest it, but it didn’t do no good,″ Cheshier said.

The quiet anger in Cheshier’s voice is common here, especially among the men. The woman tend to display a different emotion - grief.

″Basically, we’ve lost a loved one,″ said Patti Kallander. The fisherwoman, her 2-year-old daughter in tow, stopped in the fishermen’s union hall to offer her services.

″I flew out to look at what the oil slick is doing and I cried. I’ve been grieving ever since,″ she said.

She is among those who believe the molasses-like crude snaking into island coves, bays and estuaries probably will destroy the fishery this year and severely damage delicate habitat for years to come.

The fishermen’s union, with a $200,000 appropriation from the town council and promised money from Exxon and the state, formed a ″Mosquito Fleet″ to defend against the oil in selected spots.

Fishing boats with names like Yukon Lady and Icy Bay traveled across the sound from Cordova to the spruce-covered islands. By the weekend, about 35 boats worked with containment booms in a desperate effort to block the advance of oil into a handful of fishermen-owned salmon hatcheries.

A few days earlier, the fishermen quietly turned down a request from the environmental group Greenpeace to block the Valdez Narrows with fishing boats, to keep oil tanker traffic from the port of Valdez.

″We told them we wanted to do something constructive, like try to contain the damage,″ said Riki Ott, a marine biologist with the fishermen’s union. ″We recognize the oil has to get through. We want the oil industry to do it, though, without destroying the environment.″

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