Washington: On a cold March night 25 years ago, the supertanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.

Images of oil-soaked birds and fouled beaches horrified the United States, leading to tighter regulation and greater environmental consciousness. The Exxon Valdez grounding on March 24, 1989, has since been replaced by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as the worst oil spill in US history. Yet local communities in the formerly pristine Prince William Sound are suffering.

“There is a lot of bitterness still to this day,” Steve Rothchild from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council said.

The council was created after the spill to oversee oil transportation and provide a voice for the communities that were struggling after the collapse of the fishing industry.

Rothchild complains that Exxon did not fulfil its promise to “make the people whole.”

“When the court case was finally adjudicated, the people got pennies on the dollar they really deserved,” he said, using an expression meaning they were short-changed.

The oil giant, which changed its name to Exxon Mobile after a merger in 1999, was originally ordered to pay $5 billion (Dh18.36 billion) to more than 32,000 Alaska Natives, landowners and commercial fishermen. After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court limited the punitive damages in June 2008 to about $500 million.

Exxon also spent more than $2 billion on the cleanup effort and reached a settlement with the US government that included $900 million in payments, a $25 million criminal fine and $100 million in restitution.