Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Twenty years ago, the Exxon Valdez disaster changed Alaska forever. In addition to witnessing environmental tragedy, oil spill workers encountered an abundance of corruption, waste, and mismanagement. Here Merle Savage, who served as a general foreman on one of the clean-up rigs, talks about her experiences and the book she authored to sort through what happened.
Tell us how you came to write Silence in the Sound. Had you always thought of writing a book, or did your experience working on the clean-up compel you into print?
I had taken college courses and written several short stories about my life, and my instructor encouraged me to write. My friends and family also encouraged me to put the story to print. With my position as a general foreman there were many stories to relate, and I began writing Silence in the Sound. After returning home to Anchorage after the cleanup, there was an adjustment as to what had been such a physical and mental ordeal, so life pretty much existed with doctor visits and trying to get my health back. I couldn’t understand why my health was slowly deteriorating, and I began to think that it must be the Alaska weather. After 7 years of recurring health problems, I decided to relocate to Las Vegas, to be close to family. To help keep my mind off my condition, remembering the notes in my journal slowly became stories about the oil spill cleanup.
We hear a lot about waste and corruptions in government endeavors, but none of it rivals what you observed in the corporate “clean-up” process. How much did that surprise you, and how did it shape your way of viewing politics and the world?
My position in Prince William Sound put me in direct operations with the corruption, and at times I was shocked at the demands that were made by people who thought they could control me. The only way I could survive through everything, was to remain true to myself, and my personal convictions of right and wrong. There were many people who wanted me to be relieved of my position, but that never happened. When decisions were made by me, it was the best choice at the time, with no regrets.
For me, making decisions, and remaining true to Veco and Exxon, was not that tough. I had my position, my world that I could control, and it was such a small part of the big picture. I had worked at Fort Huachuca, AZ for many years and knew about the corruption in government and corporations from a distance.
What are your thoughts about Veco, your former employer, now that they’ve been linked to so many political corruption scandals in Alaska?
Exxon and Veco were only channels I went through to get to Prince William Sound. There were some Exxon Representatives and Veco Superintendents who wanted to exercise their power over others for personal reasons. Many times it took some maneuvering to stay one step ahead of situations. My friend Ray Metcalfe was the one who constantly revealed corruption within Alaska politics, which caused the FBI to investigate Veco. He was the one who brought down Senator Stevens. I told him to watch his back, and he in return indicated that I should do the same, because of the stand I’ve made with Exxon. I never believed Exxon would ever be a constant part of my life, until I realized my health had been compromised by the toxic beach spraying.
What sorts of renewed interest have you noticed in your story as the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill approached?
In October 2007, Dr. Riki Ott contacted me and sent copies of her book, which explained the toxic spraying authorized by Exxon during the cleanup. In her book it told about the many workers who had died and others who are still suffering with the same illness that I have. They had been trying to reach me since the cleanup, but at that time I was married and using the name Bailey, so Merle Bailey couldn’t be located. My web site has been dedicated to trying to reach other cleanup workers who have been suffering from the effects of the toxic spraying authorized by Exxon. At this time Melissa Dutcher, Environmental Coordinator at Masry & Vititoe, the Law Office of legal investigator, Erin Brockovich, has been investigating the many injury/illness claims of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) workers.
A Canadian film company has produced a filmed, “Black Wave”, which tells the stories in Dr. Riki Ott’s book, about toxic chemicals spraying and health conditions of the EVOS workers. Also the BBC filmed interviews of workers for their documentary for the anniversary of the spill. I flew to Anchorage in December to be interviewed with Dr. Riki Ott and others. This March it will be 20 years and the public needs to know how Exxon destroyed so many lives.
Tell us about the process of self-publishing. What advice would you give to other folks who are contemplating alternate routes to print?
I sent out letters to many publishers and three replied. Two wanted money upfront, and the other was Publisher America. Publish America will publish first time authors with no cost, but does very little to nothing in the way of promotions.
That was something I learned only after I had them publish my story. They printed without editing, which left some mistakes in the book. I do have the sequel almost completed, but will go to another publisher or self print.
You’ve got another book ready to go to press. Tell us a bit about what compelled you to write it.
I have Miracles for the Asking, which are events that occurred in my life to my family and me that is ready for print. I hope the simple way that I learned to approach the concept of asking and receiving would be an insight for others.
After many years of hanging on the fence of skepticism and not really being convinced about faith, I took a giant step in asking to see the face of God. The results that followed were amazing. The collection of stories is condensed and precise, so the miracles are seen for what they are – a Divine Revelation from God woven in normal everyday occurrences.