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B.C. Liberal takeover good for Southeast

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2001

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service decides in October on the proposed Gravina Island timber sale of 40 million board feet. The draft EIS has been out since January.

This sale, on the island across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan, makes a lot of economic sense to the Ketchikan area, suffering since Ketchikan Pulp Company closed its mill in 1997.

It's close enough to Ketchikan that loggers can commute to work, reducing the cost of a camp. It's inside the island so the harvest area won't be seen from town or cruise ships and it provides a steady payroll for a few years.

A short haul takes logs to two of the few mills still operating in Southeast. Its volume is less than 10 percent of the annual harvest of 450 million board feet allowed in the Tongass before Bill Clinton was elected president.

The Gravina sale, the 35 million-board-foot sale at Cholmondelay on Prince of Wales Island and a 22-28 million-board-foot sale east of Wrangell, are the only reasonable size timber sales up for decision this fall.

We understand from reliable sources that the Gravina sale will be targeted as a money raiser for national environmental groups, probably with the help of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil exploration is bottled up in Congress. That makes ANWR a difficult issue on which to solicit funds. Gravina, which will require road-building, is a fresh Alaska issue on which to scare people into contributing money.

We are just back from a trip through central British Columbia and have great news for environmental groups. British Columbia's new Liberal government is considering repealing the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in northern B.C.

Those who were around 30 years ago might remember a seismic exploration and mapping vessel that visited Ketchikan. It was looking for oil and gas deposits across Dixon Entrance from Alaska. We remember the vessel because the skipper was Robert Shermer who grew up in Wrangell.

He never told what he discovered. Oil companies sent him off to another part of the world after his job was completed. Subsequent B.C. governments put a 25-year moratorium on further exploration.

Time is about up so the B.C. government, under control of the New Democratic Party, NDP, started a moratorium review last year. It is expected that the NDP's report will support continuation of the moratorium. However, the Liberal government in B.C. is the equivalent of the Republican Party in the United States. It is pro-development.

In May elections it almost obliterated the NDP. Of the 79 seats in the Legislature, the NDP retained only two of its 56 seats. The Liberals now hold 77 and are acting fast to lessen the cost of government and encourage economic development. They might try another study of B.C.'s oil and gas moratorium. It already is dissolving commissions, looking at long-delayed road construction and easing NDP restrictions.

The Liberal takeover is good news to southern southeast Alaskans. State Sen. Robin Taylor has long pushed for a road up Bradfield Canal, between Ketchikan and Wrangell, to connect with B.C. Highway 37. The road would serve B.C. mining companies and provide Alaskans easy access to the continental highway system.

Rep. Peggy Wilson and Sen. Robin Taylor, both Wrangell Republicans, attended a council of state governments meeting at Whistler, B.C., this week. It's theme: Pacific Northwest Economic Region.

Wilson promised that the Bradfield road would be a subject. A new push for reopening the Tulsequah mine between Atlin, B.C., and Juneau, which Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles and environmentalists oppose, was also expected on the agenda. A road from Juneau to Tulsequah would provide another access route to Juneau and Southeast.

Now that Americans have selected George W. Bush over the lockup policies of Clinton, and the Canadians have ousted NPD, Alaskans can boost themselves by electing a more positive Alaska administration in 2002.

Williams is a Ketchikan publisher and former member of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska.



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