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Empire Editorial: Gas pipeline should be an American effort, not just Alaskan

Posted: April 18, 2014 - 11:57am

“Happiness is 10,000 Texans headed south with an Okie under each arm.”

If you lived in Alaska in 1977, you probably remember that bumper sticker. Thirty-seven years ago, thousands of Lower 48 welders left Alaska, leaving behind a 800-mile oil pipeline and a state determined to never again let “foreign” workers dominate an Alaska construction job.

As the state prepares to build the next pipeline, we should remember the lessons of the 1970s but temper them with the knowledge we’ve gained since then: Local hire is best, but local hire alone won’t build the best pipeline.

This week, we watched as the Alaska Legislature passed a bill that allows non-Alaskans to serve on the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

It’s a smart move: Alaska already allows nonresidents on the boards of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, Alaska Aerospace Corporation and Alaska Railroad Corporation.

Nonresidents serve alongside Alaskans; while Alaskans are experts on what works well here, we use people from the Lower 48 to fill in. It’s hard to find an investment economist in Barrow.

Those corporations have had their hits and misses, but they are run well. Recruiting from the widest possible base makes that possible.

Legally, Alaska has to allow out-of-state workers on big construction jobs. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court said as much when it ruled local hire requirements unconstitutional. The Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly said so, too.

As Alaska moves toward construction of a trans-Alaska gas pipeline, we should keep the Legislature’s recent decision in mind. The state will need hundreds of surveyors and engineers and thousands of construction workers to turn a paper pipeline into one built of steel and concrete. The Legislature has signaled that it’s willing to look outside Alaska, and Alaskans should be prepared to think likewise.

We prefer that pipeline workers come from Alaska, but we can’t limit ourselves.

If the best pipeline builders in the country are already in Alaska, lets use them. But if they aren’t, we must prepare to let Outside experts help.

Those Texans and Okies helped Alaska build a great oil pipeline. Let’s build a great gas pipeline, too.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton, rustan.burton@juneauempire.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, abby.lowell@juneauempire.com; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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