Fact not fiction about Gustavus

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I take exception to Mr. Ben Brown's article on Gustavus (Juneau Empire, Jan. 4) wherein he portrays the community's relationship with Glacier Bay National Park, the Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project and the commercial fishing phase-out. He has waded into several very complex and controversial issues without making any effort to first educate himself about them. I would hope that, as an attorney, Mr. Brown does more research on his cases before he presents them than he did on this matter. I have no problem with people stating their views as Mr. Brown has done, but when the views of an outsider are based on just a few opinions from people in our community, it does a disservice to the rest of us who continue to wrestle with these issues.

Is hydro-power a good thing, especially in these times of rising fuel costs? Obviously. Is obtaining a water source that will provide for a portion (not all) of our energy needs, and maybe lower our electricity rates - certainly not a guarantee for "far cheaper" power as Mr. Brown states - worth removing more than 1,000 acres from a national park worth it? That is the issue that those of us who live in Gustavus have wrestled with. Given Mr. Brown's statement that Gustavus should be a model for pilot projects such as this certainly validates the concern many of us felt as this project evolved.

The national parks have been set aside to be protected for all Americans, but in this instance a portion of the park has been carved out and turned over to a private company to be developed. To cast "environmentalists" as on the wrong side of this complex debate is simplistic and unfair. For example, some people who would proudly count themselves as environmentalists have voiced support for the project, and the Huna Tlingit people, some of whom would shriek at that label, are adamantly opposed to it.

If Gustavus Electric Company succeeds in effectively developing the project, providing clean and reliable power at reduced rates, while at the same time not impacting the wilderness values of adjoining Glacier Bay National Park lands - a condition of their permit - then it may be a fair tradeoff. But the proof of that is still some years off.

Mr. Brown's understanding of the economic relationship between Gustavus and Glacier Bay National Park is even more shallow. He alludes to the phase-out of commercial fishing in Glacier Bay as a "deprivation" for those effected, yet fails to mention that fishermen who qualified in the phase-out have been compensated for losses associated with it - over $5 million came to Gustavus, its businesses and residents alone. Furthermore, those who could demonstrate a reliance on the halibut, salmon and tanner crab fisheries - even if they did get compensation for losses - can continue to fish in the bay until they retire. Those are important facts to ignore. The impact of a loss of lifestyle is harder than economics to measure and many people in our community continue to grapple with that. Mr. Brown is picking at wounds that are best left to heal.

• Kim Ney is a Gustavus resident.

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