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My turn: Big ideas for Alaska's future

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2008

Paul Jenkins, editor of The Anchorage Times, recently wrote about the need for Alaska to find new vision and direction. He discussed the necessity for good, big ideas that would set goals for our state during the next 50 years.

We have accomplished great advances since becoming a State in 1959. Life is easier in most areas of Alaska. We have superior communications, better transportation, improved health care and better educational opportunities. We've made great "first steps" toward creating an Alaska that offers opportunity for those willing to work and contribute to Alaska's overall well-being. However, our transportation system is still woefully inadequate and energy costs are out of sight.

Over the past 50 years Alaska has had planners and dreamers with wonderful big ideas that would have significantly improved how we live and expanded opportunities for future growth.

Some of these big ideas, such as the Susitna Dam, could have provided sustainable and affordable energy. A road or railroad from Fairbanks to Nome could have opened up great regions of Alaska to recreational access, natural resource development and a variety of energy projects. A railroad from the Arctic coal project near Point Lay to a port along the coast could have provided affordable energy for an entire region of Northwest Alaska.

Building roads and campgrounds into different areas of Alaska could have provided new areas for fishing and recreation and eased the crush of anglers at the few easily accessible sport fishing areas today. Expanding a fast-ferry system could have provided alternative transportation for many of our stranded coastal communities. Extending our rail system to the Canadian border could have significantly cut the costs of goods and services coming into Alaska. Creating a state-wide transportation network to connect Alaska and constructing power projects throughout the State could have provided affordable and sustainable energy and access for rural Alaska.

It's not that we haven't had big ideas in the past. We have. We just didn't have the money.

Now that we have the money, we have the opportunity to revisit some of these good ideas from the past and to implement them along with new ideas for the future.

Our state government must join the private sector to build Alaska. This is the right time for the people of Alaska and the Legislature and to "look North to the Future!" and create a long-range development plan. Projects should include connecting a state-wide transportation system of roads, rails, ports, harbors and airports as well as developing energy systems throughout the State. These investments will stimulate sustainable and profitable development such as new fisheries, new recreational destinations, eco tourism, mining projects, agricultural and timber projects.

Without a comprehensive transportation and energy plan, we cannot proceed with developing our resources which sustains our educational, health care and social systems. Now that we have the money, we need to dedicate funds to insure sustainable growth and development in our state.

We shouldn't miss this opportunity for our grandchildren to look back at our 100th anniversary of statehood and say "Yes, those who came before us made the best use of state revenues and created a wonderful Alaska - a place for all of us to live and work."

The people of Alaska created the Alaska Permanent Fund to insure that revenues from resource development would be available in the future. It is our responsibility also to create the physical infrastructure that will insure Alaska's growth and development for future generations.

• Gail Phillips is former Speaker of the House for the Alaska Legislature. Arliss Sturgulewski is a former Alaska state senator. They both reside in Anchorage.



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