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Roy Robertson, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with Roy Robertson on August 16, 1989 by an unidentified male interviewer.  An unidentified female interviewer also asks one question near the end of the interview. The location of the interview is unknown, but since Roy was a field supervisor for VECO overseeing beach cleanup after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill based out of Seldovia, Alaska, it is likely this interview took place there. The interview was conducted at the end of the summer after the oil spill when Exxon Corporation was stopping beach cleanup operations. It seems that this might have been an interview by a television reporter, given the nature of the questioning and the interviewer's desire to have Roy sum up his comments in a short sound bite format.  The original interview was obtained from the Alaska Resources Library and Information Service (ARLIS) in Anchorage, Alaska with limited association information. In this second part of a two part interview, Roy talks about frustrations of the job while working on beach cleanup and the organization of the cleanup operation. He provides his personal opinion about the timing of the end of the cleanup and whether he thought it was successful.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-26-13_PT.2

Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Date of Interview: Aug 16, 1989
Narrator(s): Roy Robertson
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.

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


Frustrations and problems on the job

Receiving different instructions from Admiral Robbins and Exxon Corporation

Obstacles ran into in beach cleanup work

Demobilization and end of oil spill cleanup operation

Assessment of success of cleanup

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

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


ROY ROBERTSON: Okay, like I say, we were flown to this beach and had this meeting.

Aubrey was pretty much talking to my group, me especially, about removing too much gravel.

He'd asked Bobby what he did. He just turned his back and Bobby replied, "No." And he said, "Well, that son-of-a-bitch will take the whole beach if you let him."

He started talking about Coast Guard and DEC [State of Alaska, Department of Environmental Conservation] and all the Park System as being on Exxon’s side and deciding not to remove the gravel and stuff.

It -- I had my job threatened that day. It happened a couple times, but that was just real frustrating to be told one thing and then produce and then be told not to do it, you know.

And getting in trouble for stuff that -- what you’re trying to do and that they've tell you.

The biggest problem out there is they had too many bosses, too many supervisors. Everybody was trying to make decisions and nothing was ever settled.

It was amazing how many times that we would start something and then turn around and be told not to do it this way.

And we’d start doing it the other way and then they would change their mind again.

It looks like they'd have some kind of central person that would coordinate to where you don’t’ change. It's real frustrating for your crews to have to keep changing from one plan to another.

And pretty soon just get a don’t care attitude.

That’s just real -- that's what the whole summer was like just really, really frustrating and -- and I don’t know how to describe it. Just lack of total organization.

Or if it was organized it was done real well to be able to look so unorganized, I don’t know.

It's just real frustrating for my people to have to be down on their knees and stuff when you can see the oil and just kind of like -- you know you can see it but you can’t get it.

MAN INTERVIEWER: Let me capsulize your statement there. In 10 words, 15, 25 words, tell me exactly what happened with the Admiral. The Admiral came out. Start with him.

ROY ROBERTSON: Okay. Admiral came out, looked at the way we were picking up the oil in this gravel.

Told us to go ahead and remove it down to clean gravel, which was like 8 to 10 inches.

We did that that day, got a real good bag count, and at the end of the day I was pretty much flown to a beach by Aubrey Brown.

Had a meeting with several of the Exxon supervisors in the area in which he told us that we were not looking for oil. If we found it, we could pick it up.

That we weren’t in the gravel business and that was the way the game was going to be played, and if I didn’t want to play the game that way I wasn’t going to play at all, basically.

MAN INTERVIEWER: So to sum up your statement the Admiral told you guys to pick it up -- the gravel and Exxon told you to leave it there or you could lose your job?

ROY ROBERTSON: Yes. I guess from what Exxon was saying that the Admiral got back into Homer and then changed his mind and was going to do that beach bioremediation.

I don’t know if that’s what happened or not. I never did get anything back from that.

MAN INTERVIEWER: From then on, you never made any more attempts to get gravel?

ROY ROBERTSON: We did pick up some gravel as it was heavily oiled. It was just a lot less than we just wasn’t trying to set any records by doing it.

You just had to kind of pick and choose and when you saw a good bit of oil, you just went ahead and did it, you know.

You can just go ahead and put it in the bags and then turn in your bag count.

And, you know, they don’t look in the bags of what’s there after you do it, but if you start making, you know, mass production that’s when they start looking into you and saying woah slow down.

LADY INTERVIEWER: I have a question for him.

MAN INTERVIEWER: Go ahead. LADY INTERVIEWER: In what other ways do you feel like you were slowed down or hampered in your efforts?

ROY ROBERTSON: One, like in the beginning of the summer the -- we were slowed down by lack of capacity. We had two scows and a LCM which we were working on filling all three a day.

The problem there is they didn’t have the bigger barges to be able to offload. So you'd fill them up and get half a days work in and you were shut down.

That was helped out a little bit later when we went to the bag system although it slowed us down tremendously, the bags could be stored on the beach if you didn’t have the proper storage on the barges.

We were slowed down by being moved back and forth so many times. It was just one thing after another. Nothing in particular.

MAN INTERVIEWER: One last statement about de-mobilization. Once again, tell me that --

Tell me, you know, a couple brief words how you feel, you know, what the timing is? Is this good timing or what -- just talk about de-mobilization again?

ROY ROBERTSON: Okay. As far as the timing on de-mobilization, I think it's Exxon’s good timing. I believe that we've got at least another month we could be out there working.

There's plenty of oil out there, but you have to like I say turn over rocks and stuff to find it.

I believe we could work at least another month out there, but they're just wanting to get out of it.

I think the way they're looking at it they've got all these lawsuits coming up and are still going to have to pay in the same amount into the lawsuits,

so they’re just throwing money away to clean up the beaches when they still got to do the same lawsuits over.

MAN INTERVIEWER: Do you see that as a cosmetic job?

ROY ROBERTSON: Very much so. Very much so. I know that's what they wanted to see.

One of Aubrey Brown’s statements on Elizabeth Island one day was, when we were cleaning up that he thought it was good enough and he just hoped that DEC and Coast Guard would come look at it on a cloudy day so the stuff wouldn’t start running out.

Hot day the oil starts seeping through the sand and running back towards the water and it becomes a lot more visual that way.