FAIRBANKS — Sen. Lisa Murkowski is using a historic gathering to make a simple point this week: Alaska is different.
Murkowski is leading a delegation that includes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Interior Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on a busy three-day tour of the state. It began on Monday, with stops in Anchorage and a tour of the Alaska Fire Service headquarters at Fort Wainwright. Trips to the North Slope and Denali National Park will follow during the next two days.
Alaska’s need for special consideration from federal land managers is a recurring theme of the tour. Murkowski, who half-jokingly called Salazar “the landlord of Alaska,” said firefighting techniques, natural resource extraction and land-access issues all are different in Alaska than elsewhere in the country.
“We’re unique,” she said, speaking at a conference table at the Alaska Fire Service headquarters.
Salazar, wearing a black baseball cap stitched with the word “Alaska,” said it’s important he get a first-hand view of a state at the center of so many important federal lands issues.
“So much that happens in Alaska is not only going to define its future, but our country’s as well,” said Salazar, who is making his third trip to the state.
Salazar said this week’s tour is an unprecedented gathering — it’s the first time that an Interior secretary has visited Alaska with both the Interior Appropriations subcommittee chairman and its ranking member, a position Murkowski holds.
The delegation toured hangars and warehouses at the Alaska Fire Service during a rapid-fire visit on Monday. Federal fire management in Alaska includes more than 230 million acres of land — “about 100 times Rhode Island,” Reed joked — with 350 regular employees.
The delegation was briefed about the need to continue using $30 million Canadair CL-215 “Scoopers” in the fire aircraft arsenal, rather than replace them with C-130 airplanes. The Scoopers are amphibious aircraft able to snatch about 1,400 gallons of water out of lakes to dump on fires, a fact that makes them well-suited to remote Alaska firefighting.
“This has some flexibility, rather than the ‘one size fits all.’” Murkowski said, pointing to a CL-215 on a Fort Wainwright tarmac.
Reed said he was invited to tour Alaska by Murkowski soon after taking over as committee chairman, and anticipates an educational trip.
“She very early on said, ‘You’ve got to go,’” Reed said. “There are issues here that are unique and important to the state of Alaska.”
Tuesday included visits to Prudhoe Bay and Barrow, including tours of the Alpine oil field and the site of ConocoPhillips’ controversial proposal for the CD-5 drill pad in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The application to build a pad was denied by the Army Corps of Engineers last year, but Salazar said President Barack Obama is working to streamline the permitting process to get development moving in places like NPR-A.
“It fits within the paradigm of what we want for energy,” he said. “We want to develop oil and gas in the right places.”