When Stan Stephens fell asleep March 23, 1989, in Valdez, Alaska, he imagined waking to an ordinary morning. Instead, the tour-boat captain spent the Good Friday holiday hauling oil-company officials to the hemorrhaging tanker Exxon Valdez. They witnessed a fiasco: 11 million gallons of crude oil wicking through the pristine Prince William Sound wilderness.
By September, Valdez residents had formed the Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (RCAC). Now 72, Stan is serving one of many terms as its president. Guided by his steady voice and dedication, RCAC works to keep the Alyeska oil conglomerate investing in spill protections: "Now every tanker shipping out of here has a double hull and two engines, and it's escorted by two tugs," Stan says of key changes.
Industry temptations to cut costs, coupled with frequent oil spills in other waters around the globe, keep Stan and the RCAC eagle-eyed. "We're just citizens who care about where we live," Stan says. "We want to maintain safety in Prince William Sound, and we're on a world watch. Right now we're communicating with citizen-based groups on Puget Sound, where a lot of crude oil passes through. They need protection."
"But we're not negative," he adds. "We work with the oil industry for solutions on moving natural resources in the right way." That's especially crucial because "once you spill, you won't ever fully clean it up," he says.
Known to locals as the "Keeper of the Sound," Stan calls Prince William Sound the most beautiful place in the world. Every year he and his company sail 16,000 to 22,000 day-trippers into the scenic spectacle, and he exudes quiet confidence that it will remain thus. "This is probably the safest harbor for moving oil on the water that exists anywhere today," he says.