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My Turn: Sealaska's Roadless Rule worries are groundless

Posted: September 1, 2011 - 12:13am

I found the concerns expressed by Sealaska’s Executive Vice President in the Aug. 21 edition of the Empire in an article titled, “USDA’s Sherman discusses forest transition in Juneau,” puzzling. Harris claims that the roadless rule prevents building roads to mining projects like the Niblack Mine on Prince of Wales Island. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, Mr. Harris’ “imperfectly informed” opinion is directly contradicted by the language of the Roadless Rule. Either he hasn’t read the rule, relied on mistaken legal theories, or just tried to lay it on a little thick for the media.

The rule’s plain language makes it clear that it does not prohibit road construction in a roadless area if “[a] road is needed pursuant to reserved or outstanding rights, or as provided for by statute or treaty.” The archaic, yet still powerful General Mining Law of 1872 guarantees reasonable access for the development of valid mining claims.

Likewise, pursuant to the Federal Power Act (FPA), all hydropower applicants may seek approval for roads for dams, power plants, transmission lines, and other facilities. The FPA empowers the Forest Service to grant or deny such requests based on their impact and necessity, regardless of whether they are in or outside of roadless areas. On March 21, the Secretary of Agriculture re-delegated authority to the Forest Service to issue the Special Use Authority to permit the Blue Lake Hydroelectric Project within the Sitka Urban Inventoried Roadless Area. Secretary Vilsack recommended that the project go forward because the alternative would be “more costly and environmentally harmful diesel powered generators,” and “[t]he agency has taken all measures available to preserve the character of the roadless area.”

Finally, the fear attributed to Harris that the Roadless Rule would prevent “isolated communities [from] connect[ing] with each other” is another red herring. The Roadless Rule contains a specific exception for Federal Aid Highways, the principal funding source for new road connections between communities in Southeast Alaska. As noted by the Alaska federal district court, the argument that the Roadless Rule will obstruct new community road connections is “not supported by any evidence” and “speculative at best.”

We share folks’ desire to provide for long-term economic stability in Southeast Alaska. All of us who call this place home, particularly those who possess cultural, spiritual, and sacrosanct connections to this Native place, need to get past unhelpful public posturing and work together to address our shared needs.

• Lindekugel is a grassroots attorney representing the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

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