An entire community hangs in balance of lands bill decision

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I am only one individual, but please take a moment to consider my side of the Sealaska Corp. lands bill issue.

What happens soon in Congress will have a tremendous impact on my future - a future that I have worked just as hard to build as any American has. I had to put myself through college while working full-time and earn every penny I've ever made through hard work, and the sum of my life's savings is invested in my home in Edna Bay, the same home I hope to live in to my last day.

If Sealaska is allowed to take ownership of the land they desire on Kosciusko Island, our lives here in Edna Bay will change in many negative ways. We are a very remote community and depend on subsistence hunting and gathering as much or more than any community in Alaska. We require an ample population of game animals for food, and with a huge amount of their habitat potentially becoming unlivable for them if this deal goes through, it is uncertain if we will have sufficient game to survive on.

Our island is unique in all of Alaska in that it the only one that consists entirely of a karst topography. A large portion of the largest as-of-yet unmapped cave system in North America lies beneath the lands that Sealaksa wishes to own on Kosciusko Island. Studies have shown that the underground aquifer, the same one that supplies the drinking water for the residents of Edna Bay, flows via tremendously long and winding limestone caves through an unmapped system.

Contaminants from large-scale logging or other development activities in the disputed area could easily contaminate the drinking water supply of Edna Bay. It would be irresponsible to allow any development until thorough scientific studies of the Kosciusko Island aquifer had been conducted and development disallowed in all sensitive areas.

The state created the modern community of Edna Bay by laying out the boundaries of our lots and our town in a far-flung island wilderness for the purpose of attracting hard- working Americans to live in a community that would by necessity require the natural resources of the surrounding national forest for their survival.

To take those lands away from the stewardship of the American people, and especially the people of Edna Bay, to give it to a corporation that has no intention of improving the lives of Edna Bay residents - and seems to care not that we could be very adversely affected, would be to say that the profits of Sealaska are more important than the lives of the people of Edna Bay.

There must be another way to both give Sealaska the compensation it is owed, and leave the Tongass National Forest on Kosciusko Island forever untouched by private development.

I humbly request that Sen. Lisa Murkowski withdraw her support of S. 881 and immediately go to work on a different bill that would compensate Sealaska in some way other than the current one which would put the residents of Edna Bay and other small Southeast communities through extreme hardship during already difficult economic times.

• Roger L. DiPaolo Jr. is a resident of Edna Bay.

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