Do we learn from history?

Southeast residents must act now to ensure continued growth

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Alaska Department of Labor reports that 2,700 new jobs were created in Anchorage in 2005 and 600 new jobs in Fairbanks. In Southeast Alaska, for 10 years ending with 2005, only 900 new jobs were created. Nine hundred in 10 years!

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Southeast Alaska residents have a chance to improve their economy through the proposed 2007 Tongass Land Management Plan. The Forest Service is inviting recommendations for a preferred alternative until April 12.

Wilford B. Hoggatt, Jualin Mines manager at Berners Bay, was sworn in at Sitka on April 30, 1906, as Alaska's sixth governor. Hoggatt put the seal of the District of Alaska in his pocket, reboarded the mail boat, taking the capital to Juneau.

Gov. Sarah Palin indicates she is not putting the seal of Alaska in her purse and moving the capital to Wasilla. But she says her Cabinet officers and the Legislature can live where they want.

When Hoggatt made his move, ships sped straight to trailheads at Wrangell, Juneau, Skagway and Dyea, bypassing Sitka, which was off the steamship lanes.

Then began the 100-year debate over location of Alaska's capital. In the first territorial Legislature in 1913, Rep. Arthur Shoup of Sitka, letting bygones be bygones, introduced a memorial asking Congress to appropriate funds for construction of a federal building at Juneau. Northern lawmakers objected, wanting the capital moved to Valdez or Fairbanks. There was no Anchorage then. One-fourth of the 24 lawmakers and the governor were from Southeast Alaska so the memorial passed.

Alaskans approved moving the capital in 1974 but nixed financing it. Then it was suggested that only the Legislature move north, closer to most Alaskans. That was defeated in 2002.

Rep. Mark Nueman has introduced House Resolution 54 in the current legislative session. If passed, it would invite communities with more than 30,000 people to bid on providing facilities for the Legislature. If moving the capital is an expense Alaskans don't wish to finance, why would a community want to spend money building facilities to lease to the Legislature for $1 a year instead of tending to community needs?

Our friends in Juneau, like those in early Sitka, may have missed too many boats. The Alaska Court System is headquartered in Anchorage. The governor and many commissioners maintain offices there. Of the 60 lawmakers, 21 have offices in Anchorage in an old bank building on Fourth Avenue. The 10-story Atwood Building is now owned by the state and houses state offices.

Next year Juneau loses 25 percent of the economic effect of the legislative sessions when a voter-enacted proposition goes into effect cutting sessions to 90 days from the current 120.

Some still oppose better access to the capital from the north by extending the highway out of Juneau, supplemented by modern, affordable shuttle ferries. They ignore this trouble sign: The ferry system's traffic is down from 420,436 passengers in 1992 to 283,236 in 2005.

Juneau missed a boat in 1954 when the Alaska Road Commission surveyed a feasible road route out of Juneau via the Taku River valley. The idea arose again recently when reopening the Tulsequah Chief Mine was considered. The right-of-way also could be used for a pipeline to deliver natural gas to Juneau, according to prominent Alaska engineer Dennis Nottingham. Something to consider in pipeline negotiations? That road, plus the road to northern Lynn Canal, would certainly improve Juneau access. Juneau needs the access and Southeast Alaska needs the jobs, which gets us back to the 2007 Tongass Land Management Plan.

Already there is opposition to the plan where it would provide an economic timber supply to an industry that gets by now on dwindling state, mental health and private timber lands, supplementing the little the Forest Service has been able to sell.

In addition to supplying the state timber, the Murkowski administration petitioned the Forest Service to protect 34 rights-of-ways in the pending plan for future roads and utilities. That included rights-of-way for the Southeast Alaska Intertie to get Southeast communities off an oil diet and connect with B.C. Hydro and the Lower 48 to sell surplus hydropower. Among proposed roads, it includes one north out of Juneau, a road from Kake to Petersburg, a road from Sitka to a port on Chatham Strait and a road up Bradfield Canal to give Southeast Alaska better access to the continental highway system.

The high price of oil and gasoline, and the prospect of plug-in vehicles, makes highways and the intertie attractive

An integrated economic timber industry in Southeast Alaska needs 360 million board feet of timber a year, the Alaska Forest Association says, which could be available on a sustainable basis on 1.5 million acres. Forest Service officials say that volume can be provided on 1.15 million acres.

Regardless, the 17-million-acre Tongass holds 10 million acres of timberland. Five million of those acres are considered commercial grade. To dedicate 1.15 to 1.5 million acres to the timber industry is reasonable. The Forest Service says only 8 percent of the old growth has been cut in the past 100 years, only 10 percent more will be cut in the next 100, leaving 75 percent of the old growth standing forever for other uses, plus the other five million in various reserves.

It behooves Southeast Alaska residents, community leaders and even legislators, who could be reapportioned out of their jobs in three years, to comment on the Tongass plan so the region can grow instead of losing more, including the capital piecemeal.

A copy of the plan is in Forest Service offices or on its Web site. Comments should be addressed to Tongass National Forest, attention: Forest Plan Adjustment, 648 Mission St., Ketchikan, AK 99901, before April 12.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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