Alaska editorial: Juneau complains but won't lose jobs

This editorial appeared in Wednesday's Ketchikan Daily News:

Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Murkowski administration is moving the Alaska Marine Highway System headquarters to Ketchikan. Juneau doesn't like that decision.

Its political leaders - city and state - have voiced outrage since the announcement. Some of the outrage would have come no matter what Murkowski decided to do because the complainers aren't in the governor's camp; they supported the other gubernatorial candidate. Other Juneau complaints are about being surprised by the announcement or its timing. No one's timing is always right.

Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, chair of the House State Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over state Department of Transportation facilities, said this week's legislative hearing on the move is only the beginning of a long public comment period. Juneau crowded into the hearing room in indignation.

There is much to be discussed, according to Juneau political leaders. After all, Juneau stands to lose 40 to 45 jobs to Ketchikan.

That's a concern Ketchikan understands. It lost jobs by the hundreds in recent years.

Where was the Legislature with its hearings when Ketchikan stood to lose more than 1,000 jobs, and did?

Ketchikan's jobs went the way of the timber industry with its pulp mills and sawmills. They did the same in Wrangell, Petersburg and on Prince of Wales. Between those areas, 1,396 jobs were lost between 1993 and 2002.

Juneau, meanwhile, gained 2,719 jobs or experienced a 19 percent employment increase, while the rest of the region registered a 5 percent decline, according to the March 2004 issue of Alaska Economic Trends, a publication of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Where was the Legislature with its hearings when the entire region - with the exception of Juneau - lost all of those jobs?

Juneau legislators questioned the quickness of the Murkowski decision, the perceived lack of discussion and, of course, the environment.

The environment! The worst environment to be in is that without employment. Just ask all of the Ketchikan residents who lost their jobs or had family members move to find work after the pulp mills and sawmills closed.

Before the Legislature starts to question the environment of the proposed site for the new ferry headquarters - Ketchikan's pulp mill site - shouldn't it ensure all of its existing facilities meet environmental standards and safety?

Where was the Legislature with its hearings when a Juneau building housing ferry employees had to be cleaned up because of an overwhelming smell of diesel? Did that get cleaned up or does diesel still tease the nostrils upon entering that building?

Ketchikan believes something doesn't smell right. The Murkowski administration decided it would save state dollars to move the ferry headquarters. It did the same thing as Boeing Co. when the Seattle-based company decided to make a similar move. It's all about economics. It's a business decision.

That Ketchikan will benefit economically, that's good for Ketchikan. But the bottom line is that the state officials are managing as if they owned the ferry system; they're doing what's right regardless of where the political power calls "home."

Juneau can talk all it wants about the decision. It isn't "losing" any jobs. The jobs that move to Ketchikan will be offset by jobs gained with a new fast ferry being home ported there. And Juneau still has the more than 2,500 new jobs it got in the past 10 years.

Now that's something to talk about.

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