The Bering dream

Before scoffing at a tunnel connecting Alaska to Russia, ask: Is it better to exchange commodities or missiles?

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2007

On Tuesday, the Interhemispheric Bering Strait Tunnel & Rail Group meets in Moscow to form a public corporation with shareholders in China, Russia, Canada and the United States. The goal of the organization is to connect the North American rail system with the Russo-Chinese rail systems.

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China announced March 20 that it is expanding its rail system into rural areas. Such a system along with the Bering Strait project would alleviate congestion at Chinese and U.S. ports.

Better rail connections have been the longtime goal of Alaskans. Gov. Frank Murkowski, before leaving office last year, proposed financing a survey for extending the Alaska Railroad to meet the Canadian rail system and the Lower 48.

Going back to 1868, the Sitka Times, along with proposing self-government for Alaska, expressed the desire for a railroad. The Sitka Post reported in 1875 that U.S. Sen. Roscoe Conkling, R-N.Y., introduced legislation appropriating $100,000 to survey a railroad route from the continental United States through Canada and Alaska to a port on the Bering Sea.

In 1913, former Nome Gold Rush publisher Jack Underwood wrote, "It is, therefore, not improbable that at some time in the not-too-remote future, engineers and financiers will join forces in the construction of a tunnel under Bering Straits, and ... make it possible to ride from New York to Paris on wheels."

It never happened, and Lower 48 politicians and their environmentalist supporters have pretty much blocked Alaska development since, especially during the Carter and Clinton years.

In the meantime, if Alaska is in the name, pork earmarks is the game. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, included $4 million in a pending appropriation bill to design an 80-mile extension of the Alaska Railroad from North Pole to Delta Junction to serve a missile defense installation at Fort Greely and private business. It also would help in construction of the natural gas pipeline.

The "Butcher of Congressional Pork," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, opposes the railroad extension.

According to McClatchy Newspaper's Washington correspondent, Kevin Diaz, Citizens Against Government Waste, a so-called "watchdog" group backed by McCain, highlighted the project in its 2007 "Pig Book."

Citizens Against Government Waste is different from Taxpayers for Common Sense in name only. St. Petersburg Times reporter Bill Adair credits the latter group with aligning opposition to the bridge from Ketchikan to its airport by labeling it a "Bridge to Nowhere." About 20 miles from "Nowhere," and a user of the "Nowhere" airport, is the U.S. Navy's Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility. It is the only Navy facility on the West Coast that tests U.S. submarines for stealth before they go on patrol.

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, a northeast Chicago resident, opposes the bridge and has added his opposition to money for the Alaska Railroad extension. How about the 89 earmarks for Illinois, found via Google, totaling $20.8 million?

The Washington Times reported March 2 that China has launched the first of five new subs, each capable of carrying 12 nuclear missiles with ranges of 5,000 miles. A sub could lay off the U.S. Pacific Coast and hit Chicago or East Coast targets.

Let the missiles rain. Chicago hasn't had a good urban renewal project since Mrs. O'Leary's cow torched the town in 1871. Just kidding.

More revealing is an expose of Citizens Against Government Waste and its ilk by Adair. He reported that the group received $100,000 from Mexican avocado growers to lobby against U.S. avocado growers.

Adair wrote, "That's just one of many instances in which CAGW has traded on its watchdog reputation by taking money from companies and trade associations and then conducted lobbying and public relations campaigns on their behalf 'without revealing that money changed hands.'"

Now we know about "public interest" groups, lobbyists and politicians in Washington and their "railroading." So before scoffing at the Bering tunnel dream ask: Is it better to exchange commodities with China and Russia or exchange missiles?

• Lew Williams Jr. is a retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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