An Environmental David vs. Goliath Tale Worth Remembering

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“The power of the people should not be forgotten.” Those are the words of Dudley W. Dudley, a Durham resident who was instrumental in stopping a massive oil refinery project that would have forever changed the Seacoast from Great Bay all the way to the Isles of Shoals. The public will get a chance to hear the story firsthand at a fundraising event for Star Island on Saturday, November 21st in Portsmouth.

It was 42 years ago that a local citizens’ revolt shattered the plans of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, the Olympic Oil Company, then NH Governor Meldrim Thomson, and newspaper publisher William Loeb. In 1973 that powerful group intended to build a refinery in Great Bay and a superport for crude oil production at the Isles of Shoals. A few local activists and a freshman legislator successfully rallied the community to oppose the project. In an editorial at the time, Union Leader Publisher Loeb criticized the voters of Durham for being “screwballs” who were influenced by “these housewives who are beating their small breasts against the power of Mr. Onassis.”

At the time, Dudley W. Dudley was a 37-year-old mother of two and a state representative from Durham who was instrumental in leading the charge against the project. She was also elected to four terms on the Executive Council – the first NH woman to hold that position. Dudley, now a nationally recognized environmentalist who has received numerous awards for her community service efforts, says her experience opposing the massive project has relevance today: “We had no funds, no organization, and no experience in fighting huge corporate interests. But we had the truth, passion and community. And in the end, we prevailed and protected our wonderful coastline and bay.” Dudley credits Phyllis Bennett, the publisher of a small start-up local paper, and fellow Durham resident Nancy Sandberg, who spearheaded the group Save Our Shores, with mobilizing the community to oppose to the project.

Dudley will be speaking for 30 minutes at a fundraising event called Starry Night on November 21st from 5 – 7 P.M. at the Discover Portsmouth Center at 10 Middle Street in downtown. She will recount the revolt and victory, and share how a community can prevail in the face of powerful, monied interests. The public is invited to attend. Tickets cost $45.00 and include live music, a silent auction, wine, beer, and catered appetizers. Click here for tickets.

All proceeds will support the environmental effort called the Green Gosport Initiative at the nonprofit Star Island. Star Island CEO Joe Watts says “Dudley’s efforts helped save the Isles of Shoals and her talk will inspire the next generation of environmentalists. We hope the public will join us as we recognize what might have been and celebrate the future for Star Island.”

Star is the second largest of the nine Isles of Shoals located seven miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Home to the historic Oceanic Hotel and a fishing village from the 1600s, a visit to Star Island is a step back in time. Visitors are welcome to tour the island for the day, spend the night, or take part in one of the many conferences offered from June through September.

Click here to purchase your tickets for Starry Night