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Marilyn Leland
Marilyn Leland

Marilyn Leland was interviewed on June 29, 2007 by Sharon Bushell. The location of the interview is unknown. However, because Marilyn was the Deputy Director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council from 1994-2006, it is likely this interview took place in Valdez, Alaska. Marilyn's interview was conducted as part of Sharon Bushell's work on the book, The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, by Stan Jones and Sharon Bushell. (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2009). In this interview, Marilyn talks about the Cordova District Fishermen United Union's response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the factions in the Cordova community created by the spill, and changes in Cordova since the oil spill.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-26-08

Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Date of Interview: Jun 29, 2007
Narrator(s): Marilyn Leland
Interviewer(s): Sharon Bushell
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Resources Library & Information Services, Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Cordova District Fishermen United's response to the oil spill

Initial reaction to the oil spill in Cordova

Getting information and timely communication about the oil spill

Factions created by the oil spill

A life-changing event

Working with Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (PWSRCAC)

Changes in Cordova since the spill

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


SHARON BUSHELL: So, this is Sharon Bushell. I am interviewing Marilyn Leland and today is June 29th. So, just in case that doesn’t work. We have old faithful here. Okay.

MARILYN LELAND: Redundancy is good.

SHARON BUSHELL: So, Marilyn Leland on the 29th of June. So, Marilyn, other than having met you the day that I met --


SHARON BUSHELL: Right, Stan and --


SHARON BUSHELL: John, right. How could I forget that? I don’t know anything about what -- where you were or what you were doing when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef.


SHARON BUSHELL: So why don’t you just tell me about -- about that part?

MARILYN LELAND: Okay. Well, I was the Executive Director of the Cordova District Fishermen United, which was the group that was in Cordova commonly referred to as the Fishermen’s Union, although it really wasn’t a union. It is a strictly as more of a trade association by that time. It had been a union in, you know, earlier history.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: But I had been there since 1986 and so when the spill happened I was -- I was -- I was home in bed and I got a phone call about 6:30 in the morning from Jack Lamb, who was the vice president of the board and he had heard from somebody outside of Alaska that there had been a spill and so he called me to inform me.

I got up and got dressed quickly and went to the office and started making phone calls.

SHARON BUSHELL: Wow! Was it entirely unexpected or --

MARILYN LELAND: Well, I mean no. It -- it is something that the -- the CDFU had historically been critical of oil spill response plans that Alyeska had and we had at times made comments on it, but there really back in those days before the spill there wasn’t a real good mechanism for giving input into -- into those things even though they obviously ended up having a huge impact on us.

And, of course, and I’m sure you have heard this story the night before the spill Riki Ott, who was -- who was also on our board at that time, had a teleconference with the mayor’s group over in Valdez.

And -- I mean -- the -- the quote that she has most oftenly been quoted on is it is not if there is an oil spill is when there is an oil spill, and so -- so and no I mean it wasn’t totally unexpected.

The other thing too actually interestingly after the spill -- going back again in history and, of course, much -- before ’86 all of this happened before I even lived, you know, in Alaska and so this -- I’m just repeating what I’ve heard.


MARILYN LELAND: But CDFU was -- was one of the groups that fought to block the pipeline from even coming into Valdez.


MARILYN LELAND: And then -- and congress came to -- it went to congress. Well, actually they won in court. There was a court case and they won in court so then it went to congress to change the law and it came to a tie vote in congress and Spiro Agnew casted the deciding vote and that -- it was by that one vote that the terminal was in Valdez.

But CD -- so CDFU had, you know, historically been opposed to it and they were very concerned about --


MARILYN LELAND: The possibility of an oil spill, but after the spill we knew that we had a lot of old records from back in those days in the basement of the union hall and so I brought somebody -- actually was a previously executive director Jeannine Buller (phonetic). I brought her on board to have her literally go through the basement and see what she could find.

And one of the things that she came up with was a -- there was a transcript of a congressional hearing that happened back when congress was considering this and it was a congressional hearing that was held in Alaska and there was a commercial fisherman who then even still then lived in Cordova and I mean ’89 still lived in Cordova, and was still actively fishing and he testified before that committee and he used an example of 100,000 barrels or no, 200,000 barrels at Bligh Reef as being a possible oil spill.

And the response to that at that time was well it couldn’t possibly happen and if it did we would be prepared to clean it up. Well, that’s -- I mean it was -- I have to say when I came across that transcript it, you know, it gave me chills because it is like well, that was rather prophetic.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I should say.



MARILYN LELAND: So, no, I mean -- I guess we all were sort of, you know, well hoped it would never come and also don’t think any of us really had any idea of the shear magnitude that it would when it did come.

I don’t -- I certainly didn’t. You know, I think initially I kind of -- I thought well this is, you know, we’re going to be busy with this for a little while. Well, you know, 18 years later lots of people are still busy with it.



SHARON BUSHELL: So, I have been told snippets about the chaos in Cordova, but what was it like from your -- from your perspective as a citizen and also from the point of view of the position that you held?

MARILYN LELAND: Uh-huh. Well, I would say it was somewhat organized chaos. I mean it really wasn’t chaos. It was very, very busy.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: You know, a lot of unanswered questions and I mean I think, you know, in the first three days, you know, like I said, when I first got the word I went into the office and just literally started making phone calls, calling the Coast Guard, calling Alyeska, calling Exxon, calling DEC, calling anybody I could possibly think of to try, you know, number one confirm that it had happened and number two then find out, you know, how bad it is, you know. And really was there anything that we could do.

Almost immediately we had fishermen, you know, as soon as the word got onto the street, we had fishermen coming into the office and they wanted to go out and help.


MARILYN LELAND: And initially in the earliest days I thought -- I really felt that the attitude was -- was one neighbor helping another neighbor because they've got a problem. Money wasn’t even brought up at all.

And I, you know, when I would talk to different people, tell them we had -- we had boats and I would say the most memorable conversation for me was I was with someone at Alyeska and I don’t anymore even remember who it was.

It wasn’t somebody I knew at the time. I suspect I probably know them pretty well now, but I have forgotten who it was, but when I told them that, you know, we had all of these boats they said to me, well, we can’t afford the liability of using amateurs.

And my response to them was the amateurs are the people who have just flown in from Houston.

I said I’m talking about fishermen who have spent their entire lives, you know, out in Prince William Sound, you know, hauling seines, hauling gillnets. Trust me, they are -- they are not amateurs and they are perfectly capable of doing this.

SHARON BUSHELL: That's sort of -- but the attitude sort of sets up the whole I’m just harkening back to thinking of that long involved conversation with Tom Copeland was -- whoa -- so compelling, interesting and everything.

But boy it just seems like of all the communities, of all the people and efforts the people of Cordova really got dealt a bad hand --

MARILYN LELAND: Uh-huh. SHARON BUSHELL: -- in that deal. Did they know -- did -- did they know it at the time? I mean --


SHARON BUSHELL: I don't know how to phrase the question.


SHARON BUSHELL: But I think you know what I mean.

MARILYN LELAND: I don't -- no, I don’t think initially. I mean certainly we knew it was a disaster, you know. We knew it was a terrible thing. I don’t -- I don’t think it really sunk in and certainly didn’t to me anyway. It took a long time for it to sink in, you know, although it was so frustrating in the beginning.

There were just, you know, you just coming up against stone walls of people not even being willing to talk to me and especially when we had these incredible resources, which of course now are all part of the system, you know.

I mean, we -- we have gone so far beyond that, but -- but it was finally -- it was Denny Kelso, who was then the Commissioner of DEC, who I think it was about three days into the spill my phone rang and it was Denny on the phone and he -- he said to me I hear you got some boats down there.

And I said yeah we sure do and he says well, how many could you get for me and I said right now I got a hundred on my list.

And he said well, could you have three of them there in the morning and I said, yeah we can do that and that was what broke open the door.

And -- and the fishermen did go over there. Unfortunately, that was when the weather turned -- we had really good weather up until then. That was right when --

SHARON BUSHELL: That must have been day four?

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, that was right when the weather turned bad and so, I mean it was -- they got over there, but I know -- they weren’t able to do much initially. However, again that is what broke open -- broke it open so that the industry folks and the -- and the government folks did see that we had this resource and that there were a lot of fishermen who could help.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. So considering the -- the absence of e-mail back in those days the necessity of fax machines and so forth, I’m just envisioning people converging on your office.

MARILYN LELAND: Well, that’s true. In fact, let me say something about the fax machine too because obviously there wasn’t e-mail. Well, in Cordova there were barely fax machines.

I think -- I -- I mean I think in -- in -- back in those days I think there were maybe a half a dozen fax machines in the entire town and we didn’t have one of them.

SHARON BUSHELL: I know Margie Johnson went to town and bought one.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, well and we did -- we went and got one at CDFU as well, but when it happened, you know, we, you know, for a few weeks after that we didn’t have one and we only had three telephone lines and, of course, it was -- every time you hung up one -- the phone it would ring immediately ring and it was -- calls were coming in from all over the world.

And so, yeah, and the union hall really became the gathering place for local people. I mean -- I mean literally -- it is -- it is -- it is a big old building and there is off -- we had a small office in the back.


MARILYN LELAND: And the aquaculture -- Prince William Sound Aquaculture had their office right next door to us and we owned the building, but we had -- we actually had the smallest office there.

But then the very front part was what was called the union hall and it was an area where we would have meetings and, you know, but and so it was -- you know, at any given time that I’d walk through out there, you know, there would be, you know, there would 50 fishermen hanging out and -- and it was sort of the place where that people were coming to get the information.

SHARON BUSHELL: Now that is -- that is the scene that I was never able to quite frame the question for Tom, but that scene that you're talking about 50 fishermen who are not allowed to fish or to help on the spill cleanup, what was the climate like? What was that like in there?


SHARON BUSHELL: I mean thinking of just a lot of strong language, but --

MARILYN LELAND: Well it was a lot of emotion.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: I mean certainly, you know, well with fishermen there is often a lot of strong language so that is -- I am not sure that I could segregate that out, but it was -- it was very emotional.

I mean I remember walking through there and seeing, you know, these big old guys and I’m talking about guys that had been there, you know, their whole lives and, you know, maybe, you know, 50, 60 years old at that point and literally would see them with tears in their eyes.


MARILYN LELAND: And it just was -- it was a feeling of helplessness.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. MARILYN LELAND: You know, of course, once -- there was a down side to opening the door and getting the boats in and then responding. I am sure you have heard about this too.

That there were sort of has and have not’s and there -- there were fishermen who were able to get contracts. There were fishermen who didn’t want to get contracts. They did not want to work for Exxon and then there were fishermen who wanted to work for Exxon, but -- but couldn’t get a contract.

So it did create a lot of animosity between some people. I mean some people who thought you shouldn’t go to work for Exxon would be mad at the people who did go to work for Exxon.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. So what -- in what case would it be that somebody wanted to, but couldn’t. How --

MARILYN LELAND: Well -- SHARON BUSHELL: In what case would they be denied that?

MARILYN LELAND: You know, I mean I have heard allegations and, you know, there -- there are people who -- who thought there was some favoritism going on. I don’t know that of my own accord. I don’t -- who knows. Maybe there are equip, you know --

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. MARILYN LELAND: Choices were made.

SHARON BUSHELL: Inferior equipment or they may have mouthed off at some point and --

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah. Or maybe at that -- or maybe the point that they were trying to get at is they simply weren’t needed. See, that's the other thing. In the earliest days of the oil spill there wasn’t enough equipment to go out and respond to the spill.

So well it didn’t help, you know, if you had a boat out there but you actually didn’t have the boom to haul.


MARILYN LELAND: You know or -- or well and they were running out of space in the -- I think the Tanner Gym. They had skimmers out but they didn’t have storage space to put what they were picking up. So -- so -- so a lot of things just, you know, they were falling way behind on the skimming because they didn’t have any place to put it.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. The way that Tom -- Tom is really my point of reference here and the -- well, he and Margie they are so far to my knowledge the only true Cordova people that I know that Tom is an on and off, but and oh, Joe Banta he -- he grew up in Cordova.


SHARON BUSHELL: It -- it seems to me that the frustration must have been paramount and -- and I -- was there much communication back and forth between Valdez in -- I mean in terms of like of going a person --


SHARON BUSHELL: Does a person who lives in Cordova, do they do their shopping in Valdez?


MARILYN LELAND: No, but let me -- I will tell you what happened though is the -- another thing that we can thank Denny Kelso for is I don’t, you know, this was in -- within a couple weeks afterwards. I don’t remember the exact timing, but it, you know, we first had the phone call on getting the boats, but then after that he made two offers to me.

One was DEC had an office in Valdez and he said we can put aside a small office for CDFU if you would like to have somebody over here. So the woman who had the previous executive director Jeannine Buller who I had brought in to go through the things in the basement.


MARILYN LELAND: We hired her again and she went to Valdez and she ran that office over in Valdez, so we did have someone on site in Valdez. The other offer that Denny made me is -- is they had -- they were chartering their planes out of Cordova so the planes were leaving Cordova every morning going over to Valdez picking up people doing whatever it was they were doing throughout the day and at the very end of the day before sunset they would come back to Cordova.

And so Denny did say to me that, you know, if you need to come to Valdez, just be there in the morning, get on the plane, you can go over, spend the day in Valdez and you can come back that evening, which I did several times and which was great because finding a place to stay in Valdez was impossible.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. I -- I can’t -- I can’t think of what would be the next best question to ask you in amongst all of this.

MARILYN LELAND: Well it just -- let me -- just kind of follow-up on what other question you were asking is just -- just getting the information. In one way we were very lucky that the previous October there had been a group of us for a few years who had been trying to get a public radio station in Cordova and ultimately we decided to not do our own public radio station but to get a repeater on the public radio station over in Valdez and that actually happened in October before the oil spill.

So because of that we were actually getting, you know, live feeds on press conferences and things like that and otherwise I don’t -- I mean it would have been sort of a black hole of information.


MARILYN LELAND: The other thing too and we -- I'm getting confused here -- the -- we -- we had invited Exxon and a number of other people to come to Cordova for a press conference and we had invited the press and the answer we kept on giving was well the press is all in Valdez and there is going to be a press conference there and, you know none of us can come.

And we kept on kind of stonewalled too by Exxon. They'd been, frankly they didn’t want to come and so while we are putting this on -- well, ultimately, you know, and we told the, you know, the reporters that we were dealing with us what the story is going to be here at that point.

So ultimately this did come up and we had I think probably about 1,500 people in -- in the auditorium at the -- at the high school gym, which at that time of the year is probably virtually every --


MARILYN LELAND: --adult who can walk, you know.


MARILYN LELAND: And -- and so -- and Exxon arrived late. They -- they -- they had chartered over there, arrived late, probably a good 45 minutes late and the first thing that was announced was that they were going to have to leave early because -- because their -- their pilot’s license was expiring.

Well, I think what they really meant he was going to have the requisite number of hours that he couldn’t fly anymore. Well, there are lots of pilots in Cordova or lots of little planes in Cordova and there were calls from all over the gym saying I can give you a ride back and, you know, it was real clear that they needed to stay.

And they -- and I have to give them credit they did stay, but until that point too it is like, you know, we at times I really had the sense from Exxon that what was going on was really none of our business and we should, you know, we didn’t anything about it we should just stay out of it.


MARILYN LELAND: You know, I mean again nobody actually said those words, but you know --

SHARON BUSHELL: They don’t need to.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, they don’t need to, yeah.

SHARON BUSHELL: Huh. So tell me what that meeting was like.

MARILYN LELAND: It was -- it was again very emotional. I know we had -- the CDFU board seated at the front. We had a table at the front and all of us were seated up there at the front and, you know, lots of questions from -- from the audience.

And it actually was March 28th was the date of it because --

SHARON BUSHELL: I was going to ask you that, yeah.

MARILYN LELAND: Because I remember because it was -- it was Michelle O’Leary’s birthday and she was also on the board and she was sitting next to me and it was her birthday. Anyway, so that was just very soon after the oil spill.


MARILYN LELAND: But anyway I don’t know, of course, that is -- that is also the one where Don Cornett who was basically heading it up for Exxon in Alaska for -- for the response on the spill, you know, his quote there was, you know, you will be made whole.

And -- and then I remember another one there was talked about, there was an example started to be given from the audience was about the ski hill. Cordova's got, you know, a little ski hill and it is actually reasonably challenging ski hill, but nonetheless it is kind of a single place chair lift.


MARILYN LELAND: And it is run by a club, so it -- and it is a nonprofit, but, you know, it is something that is important to the community.


MARILYN LELAND: Well, it had to close down because it didn’t have anybody to run it. And so they, you know, and -- and but they still had certain bills that they had to pay that they needed the rest of that season for and I mean like the insurance and, of course, the utility bills were still coming in and - and -- and things like that.

And so that was an example given as well, you know, this is a side effect and this is only happening because of the spill. And I remember Cornett then saying well, I don’t really see how that could be compensable.

So it was -- it was -- I am sure it was an uncomfortable meeting for Exxon.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yes. That just conjures up idea -- images of people being once again angry and upset and shouting -- is that -- is that off the chart -- I mean is that --

MARILYN LELAND: No, that is not off the chart.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. MARILYN LELAND: And I think Cordova kind of has a reputation for being that way frankly in representing fishermen, you know, board of fish meetings and stuff like that I mean people would get up there they would speak their mind they, you know, but I never -- I never saw anything out of line.

This one particularly I think had Exxon really decided to leave and -- and actually try to leave early I think they would have had a problem.

SHARON BUSHELL: So I’m -- I’m not putting words in your mouth here, but it -- it sort of -- you would -- it is not unthinkable that this was -- this was not a threatening situation, but it might have been approaching that.

MARILYN LELAND: Well -- SHARON BUSHELL: They may have perceived that.

MARILYN LELAND: I would say I would not at all be surprised if they perceived it that way.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: Again, I think in part because I think Cordova has a little bit of a reputation in that way, but I -- I think it is an unfair reputation myself and I never actually saw it.


MARILYN LELAND: But, you know, people were angry, you know, and especially because at that time by that point, you know, we had -- they were stonewalling us and really, you know, I mean we -- we had gotten a boat, you know, some boats over there through DEC, but Exxon was completely blocking us out so.

So, yeah, there was a lot of anger there.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yes. So how did the next -- how -- how did that -- what happened after the meeting? Did it change anything?

MARILYN LELAND: Well, I -- yeah, in some ways, yeah, I think it did change some things because even though we weren’t getting the answers that we wanted to get I think that Exxon did realize that -- that they did need to include us.

That we were part of it and they did need to be communicating with us and, you know, ultimately they assigned a person to -- to handle Cordova. I don’t know if that is a good word.

Z. J. Moon, who was somebody I didn’t -- I didn’t know before, but he -- he actually was a former Cordovan, but he was working for Exxon. And I don’t know if he had been working for Exxon before that or not, but he was -- he was supposed been busy. He was -- maybe liaison is a better word.

And so, you know, he would come over and he would meet with us and we fairly early on too we formed an oil spill committee. It was -- it was the city council created this committee and appointed people representing, you know, different segments of the population.

I was on the committee representing commercial fishing people. We had processing and we had the mayor was on it representing the city, the aquaculture people had a person on it. So I think the churches had a person on it. So, I mean it was really representing a broad spectrum of the community and -- and pulled that together.

And actually we ended up doing something that I don’t -- I didn’t see coming out of any other communities and it was we -- we were doing, you know, a regular printed report that, you know, people -- I think it was -- I can’t remember it was called the Oil Spill Report or something like that, but anyway Nancy Berg was actually -- ended up being the editor on that.

And what we were trying to do was just get out the latest information so that people could come in to the union hall. You know, it would be posted but they could pick up copies and so, you know, there were so many rumors.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: You know, just rumors would be flying and, you know, we were trying to just, you know, get what we knew to be the latest correct information.


MARILYN LELAND: So, and, of course, then the other thing too that -- that I think it is one -- one of the good things that came out of the spill was the RCAC and I was involved with that.


MARILYN LELAND: And the start up of that and that too I think is -- that has made a huge difference in the, you know, the communication between industry. I mean it really is a different world now.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I -- that seems to be the one unarguable fact of the whole debacle. There's a question I want to ask you, Marilyn, in preparation I will be going more toward the latter part of summer I will be going to Cordova.


SHARON BUSHELL: And I know I can’t ask this question of -- of the folks there, so you seem like a good person to ask and that is what about the -- the factions as they were split with people who would go to work for Exxon.

MARILYN LELAND: Uh-huh. SHARON BUSHELL: And those who did not. How did that play out in the community?

MARILYN LELAND: Well, you know, some of this is going to be just what I heard about before the oil spill and I mean I think I heard this in the context of after the oil spill, but there had been a number of years before then there had been a strike and it was back when they were actually bargaining the prices and there had been a strike and there had been people who had fished not withstanding the fact that there was a strike and so there was animosity there.

You had, you know, people very angry at each other and literally not speaking to each other.


MARILYN LELAND: Well, what I’m told is that after the spill there were a number of interesting flip-flops on that of people, you know, who had been enemies because of that but now they were not. On the other hand, I think it created new enemies and the people were very angry.

They had some very strong feelings about it and I would say probably, well, the two groups -- the group that actually got contracts and went off I mean I don’t -- I don’t know that they were angry at anybody unless maybe what was being said to them probably, but -- but the people that were the angriest were the ones who wanted to work and couldn’t and the ones who thought no one should.


MARILYN LELAND: You know another thing on that note too that I would like to say is there was term coined that I’ve heard batted around -- more, well, not in Cordova, but more outside of Cordova and actually outside of Alaska and that term is spillionaire.

Well, at one point when I was still at CDFU I actually, you know, I had the numbers. I knew how many people were working and, you know, and making a lot of money and certainly there were some people who made a lot of money. There is no question about it.

But from -- from the information the data that I had it looked to me like a third of the fleet probably made a lot of money. A third of the fleet probably made maybe -- maybe close to what they might normally have made if they were fishing and a third of the fleet wasn’t making anything.

SHARON BUSHELL: Huh. Wow. I just keep thinking about Cordova. I have lived in Alaska for 30 years and I have been to some of the Native villages up north and to the west and I always wanted to get down to Cordova to see Bobby Vanbrocklin (phonetic).

MARILYN LELAND: Oh, Bobby is a very good friend of mine.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. He was a childhood friend of mine. We -


SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, well he just lived up the street. He was -- we were -- he was a year ahead of me in high school, but he dated my sister and --

MARILYN LELAND: Was that in Anchorage?

SHARON BUSHELL: In Port Angeles, Washington.

MARILYN LELAND: Oh in Port Ang -- oh, okay.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. We went to the same elementary school, the same junior high.

MARILYN LELAND: Oh. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, so we -- we were very good friends. I saw him -- the last time I saw him was in 1968 when he was on R&R from Vietnam. He came to Honolulu where I was living with a couple of girls from high school and his mother Liz met us there and we had a great time, but I always wanted to get to Cordova to see Bob, but it was just so -- Cordova is not a place that you go to.

MARILYN LELAND: No, you don’t get there by accident.

SHARON BUSHELL: You just don’t get there and when you are around Anchorage you meet people from here and there and all over the place. You don’t meet people from Cordova. I swear I just --

MARILYN LELAND: That is actually kind of interesting because it seems to me I mean as a former Cordovan -- I mean --

SHARON BUSHELL: Now you see -- MARILYN LELAND: When I am out and about in Anchorage, I am always running into people who are still from Cordova.


MARILYN LELAND: You know, you don’t particularly go to Cosco, you know, the usual sorts of places.


SHARON BUSHELL: Well, when I was doing that column for Anchorage Daily news --


SHARON BUSHELL: About the older Alaskans Cordova was never a place that was even in my mind to go to because I -- they never gave me any travel money.


SHARON BUSHELL: So it was always any traveling that I did was all at my expense, so I could dream about those places, although in the end I did make telephone calls to people up in Barrow and so forth like that, but by that time Bobby was gone.


SHARON BUSHELL: The draw was not there.

MARILYN LELAND: Well, you know, I would say back in those days when it came to -- to guys Bobby was probably my best friend I mean as for guys. I had woman friends who were probably better friends, but he was -- he and I were really good friends.

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, let’s return when -- when the mics are off we’ll return to that.


SHARON BUSHELL: But in terms of the actual number of words that we are probably going to -- that will be using we’ve probably exceeded that now, but Stan just gave me the word today that we are probably around -- whereas I had been thinking of 2,500 he is thinking of a thousand.

MARILYN LELAND: Per -- per story you mean? SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah. SHARON BUSHELL: And I -- after had -- after doing the column for ADN I stood firm at 1,500. I don’t even think you could shape a story with less than a thousand.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, yea, well, yeah.


MARILYN LELAND: And Stan knows it.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, so he and I are still going to duke that one out, but so what do you think is the most important thing to say about where you were and what you saw, what you experienced.

MARILYN LELAND: I mean it changed my life.


MARILYN LELAND: It changed actually everyone who was involved with it I think it changed their lives.

I mean I am one of the lucky ones. It changed my life for the better. I wish it hadn’t happened, but, you know, I mean -- and -- I mean -- boy after the spill I could have gone to work for the state or I could have gone to work for Exxon, but I chose to say in Cordova and stay with the fishermen, you know.

And I ended up being -- I was executive director for five years which in that job is a pretty long time. I think previous to that people maybe a couple of years, but -- but -- but it -- it certainly has, you know, taught me a lot and gave me a lot of experiences I never would have had any other way and I mean its -- its helped my career.

I guess in some ways sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, but --




MARILYN LELAND: Because -- I mean, so many of my friends it is, you know, I mean it is -- did so much damage to their lives.


MARILYN LELAND: But I think, yeah, in some way everyone who was involved with it was changed. I mean and I think a common thing I know I do myself and I hear other people who were involved with it do you talk about before the spill and after the spill.


MARILYN LELAND: Its -- and there is such a dividing line there.


MARILYN LELAND: Its -- its, you know, and in some ways, you know, it is so much better today than -- I mean in a lot of ways it is so much better than it was then, but there is still so much that is unresolved and --


MARILYN LELAND: And, you know, of course, having the litigation still hanging out there.


MARILYN LELAND: I mean there, you know, there I hear people say well those fishermen they just need to get over it. Well, how, you know --

SHARON BUSHELL: Tell a parent to get over the death of their child.

MARILYN LELAND: Well, not only that, but also with that litigation going on you can’t get past it.


MARILYN LELAND: You know, it is not over with yet.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. And even if it does end, finally and in fact, you know it is a gaping wound.


SHARON BUSHELL: And then there is still the fishery I mean, boy, what impact ultimately does it have on the fishing industry.

MARILYN LELAND: Well, and, you know, the herring fishery is still --


MARILYN LELAND: That’s who knows. Who would have -- who would have believed, you know, on March 25, 1989 that we would be 18 years out and not have a herring fishery.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I know. That is just -- yeah, it's in the category of the unthinkable.


SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Well, let me see if I need to change the tape on this. I have made that error more than once.

MARILYN LELAND: I don’t know if you have noticed, but make sure you have noticed but right behind you there is a picture of the -- the blockade up there on the top.

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh. Yeah. That’s wild. I -- I -- I think somebody ought to write a book about that.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah. I was -- I was in Washington, DC when that actually happened. Now you know I moved to Washington, DC. I lived in DC for two and a half years.


MARILYN LELAND: Yeah. Well, when I -- I was on the original board of the RCAC.


MARILYN LELAND: I was one of -- I was one of the founders and as I had mentioned earlier it really started in Cordova with a couple of fishermen approaching the Alyeska president and then he Keithman (phonetic), Jim Hermiller (phonetic) and he thought it was a good idea too and we proceeded to -- to organize this thing.

So I was on the board for a couple years.

SHARON BUSHELL: Wow! I -- yeah -- I'll wanna --


SHARON BUSHELL: -- ask some questions about that.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah and then I had just gotten off the board and -- and at that time the then president and then executive director approached me because they had been contacted by Admiral Henn (phonetic) at the Coast Guard and they wanted to borrow one employee to help them write oil spill regulations and so they offered me a job and I went -- I became an employee of RCAC, but there is a program called IPA.

It is Intergovernmental Personnel Act -- federal agencies can borrow employees from other governmental agencies or qualifying nonprofits and RCAC was a qualified nonprofit.

So I went to --to Washington, DC and I was -- I originally went for a year, but they kept on extending it. I ended up being there for two and a half years. And I was on what’s called the OPA 90 staff at Coast Guard headquarters and Oil Pollution Act staff.


MARILYN LELAND: So I was actually there helping write the regulations to implement.

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, that is so exciting.

MARILYN LELAND: Oh, it was, yeah, it was fascinating and-- and frankly I mean it was such a great opportunity. Now I think of myself as being a pretty fair person and I think industry people who deal with me in general would probably agree with that statement.

But for us to have a person on the inside actually helping to write the regulations rather than being just on the outside making their comments after the fact and hoping that those comments make a difference. I mean it was -- it was -- it was huge.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. I -- it just makes me think of the juxtaposition of you there in Washington helping write those regs as opposed to being in Cordova at the beginning of the thing and Exxon saying you guys go away.

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, exactly, yeah.



SHARON BUSHELL: So you say a couple fisherman -- fishermen approached Jim --


SHARON BUSHELL: Hermiller (phonetic).

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, Rick Steiner and Dave Brenner -- Grimer -- David Grimes I’m sorry. Rick Steiner and David Grimes.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Rick Steiner is the guy I keep trying to run him down. I am supposed to see him some time today, but he is not getting back to me.

And so then the actual founding of the organization really just sprang from that -- that -- idea?

MARILYN LELAND: Yes. And, you know, and also it was not a new idea. The idea actually had batted -- been batted around in the early days even before the pipeline was built, but it was rejected and again, I’m -- that is just what I am told, but it, you know, well, and in fact, there was precedent for it because in Sollum Voe in Scotland there is an organization, you know, very much like what the RCAC is that we, in fact, to a large extent patterned ourselves after them.

There are some pretty significant differences too, but -- but that -- that was where the idea came from. In fact, Jonathan Wills, who -- I don’t know if you have heard that name yet or not, but --


MARILYN LELAND: He was the editor of the Shetland Times and it is actually kind of funny because as I -- in the earliest days I mean the phone was just ringing off the hook and I mean I was getting phone calls literally from all over the world and I didn’t even remember talking to Jonathan, but literally he shows up in my office one day from Scotland and he shows up in Cordova, Alaska.

Well, it turned out based on the conversation that he and I had he decided that he needed to come here and so he went to his publisher and the publisher said well, I’ll buy you an airline ticket, but beyond that you are on your own.

So he -- he came to Cordova and he is a great guy. He is quite a charming person so he --


MARILYN LELAND: So he had no problem, you know, getting a lot of friends and having places to stay and things like that. So, but and -- and he also, you know, he brought us word of this council in Scotland that oversees that facility and so -- and that -- that was more than fifty percent ownership by BP which, of course, at the time of the spill that, you know, was the same thing here in for -- for TAPS.

And so there was precedent with BP of doing that.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh. MARILYN LELAND: And so that's him.

SHARON BUSHELL: Huh. I am going to flip this tape over.

So the -- the concept of before the oil spill and after the oil spill I was thinking about that yesterday that I was really glad that I got to Alaska when I did which was in 1977 which I know is another banner year for Alaska in terms of --


SHARON BUSHELL: --the beginning of the pipeline.


SHARON BUSHELL: But if I had -- if I had gotten to Alaska after 1989 I would have been forever wondering what was it really like before --


SHARON BUSHELL: -- the oil spill because people always -- in Homer people talk about the oil spill as though it happened last week.

MARILYN LELAND: They do in Cordova too and I’ll admit even -- I mean I -- when I get going on it I probably do too. It seems like it was last week because it is so hard to believe that it was as long ago as it was -- I mean.


MARILYN LELAND: I mean I remember, you know, I mean a year after the spill -- five years after the spill and it always is just it, you know, it is just -- is -- it is just right there below the surface, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I am -- I am so hopeful that this book turns out to be something that could be so compelling that it could actually inform a -- a new generation.


SHARON BUSHELL: My -- my children ages 22 and 23, they -- they might have some notion that it happened, but they don’t have any education about it.


SHARON BUSHELL: We -- my husband and I have been traveling Outside quite a bit and people -- I mean there was a furor at the time as you know about boycotting Exxon and people, you know, --

MARILYN LELAND: I was never afraid of it.


MARILYN LELAND: And living in Washington, DC it is hard not to buy Exxon gas.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, well, when we travel we still personally boycott Exxon.


SHARON BUSHELL: But it is tough to do when you are traveling through places like Wyoming and Utah and one thing for sure you no longer want to have that bumper sticker.


SHARON BUSHELL: You better not have that bumper sticker in those places or anything that says refuse illegal war we want anything like that because they are just -- they are just not too happy about that.

But I really believe that if people understood what actually happened if -- if it was conveyed to them in a way that you read a novel. Lay it down because you are going to come back. You can’t wait to pick it back up. If just one thing came out of the book which was a whole bunch more people boycotted Exxon --


SHARON BUSHELL: I just would think that what more -- what better thing --


SHARON BUSHELL: --that the best thing.


SHARON BUSHELL: So that's my --

MARILYN LELAND: I -- you know, I -- I travel outside of Alaska a lot and it is not unusual to have people tell me I’ve never bought their gas since.


MARILYN LELAND: Yeah, I mean seriously, you know, I also -- it is not unusual for me for people say really.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Well, I thought you got paid off for that.


SHARON BUSHELL: I thought they paid you off enough every year.


SHARON BUSHELL: Which I guess in some ways they do I don’t know.


SHARON BUSHELL: Because, you know, the one thing that somebody -- somebody will invariably say if you talk about the oil spill long enough with somebody from Outside they will say well, then why don’t you people put your money where your mouth is.


SHARON BUSHELL: And just start refusing the Permanent Fund and that is a really frustrating opinion to --


SHARON BUSHELL: -- to rub up against, so, but fortunately it doesn’t happen all that often.


SHARON BUSHELL: You have to have real staying power to be in a conversation that long to take that turn, but well, what else do you want -- what else do you want to say, Marilyn. As you know, you are going to be seeing this in --

MARILYN LELAND: Uh-huh. SHARON BUSHELL: Document form --

MARILYN LELAND: Yeah. SHARON BUSHELL: And take the red pen to it.


SHARON BUSHELL: But so -- so tell me what else you -- you would like to say.

MARILYN LELAND: I don’t know.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Well, I -- I hadn’t thought about it until you -- until you specified, you know, that you -- that, you know, it was life changing event and in your case it changed it personally in positive ways as opposed to --

MARILYN LELAND: Uh-huh. SHARON BUSHELL: Friends for whom it took a negative turn, but that seems to be one -- one commonality is that it changed everybody’s --


SHARON BUSHELL: Life. Would a similar event do the same thing, you think?

MARILYN LELAND: I mean it is hard to say, but I mean, yeah, I think actually, yeah, I think it probably would and here is why is because Cordova has changed so much since the spill.

I mean a lot of -- even though I still have a lot of friends there -- I was just there two weeks ago and in a lot of ways I still consider myself much more a Cordovan than Anchoragite.

A lot of the people that -- that made Cordova what -- what I liked about Cordova just frankly aren’t even there anymore. There has been a lot of changeover and because of that I think if it were to happen again, you would have new people who didn’t experience it before experiencing it.

So I think for that reason, yeah, it -- it -- it probably would.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Okay. I am going to stop here.