My Turn: Lew Williams Jr. is right, almost ...

Posted: Monday, August 04, 2003

Lew Williams Jr., in his recent Empire commentary, is absolutely right; "There is economic hope for Southeast." But Lew is dead wrong when he basis that hope on the rebirth of the timber industry based on a vast net work of roads leading to new timber sales and roads to every community. He states: "... roads that would provide Southeast communities with cheaper access and power," and, "There are plans to upgrade all the roads on Prince of Wales Island, including improved culverts to protect fish."

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Well, Lew, cheaper power and access sound good, but this is so totally unrealistic that any thinking person would have to question your math or definition of "cheaper." The price tag for the proposal you tout to achieve "cheaper" is $1.2 billion. And who will pay to make it cheaper? Prince of Wales Island has some 4,000 miles of roads and there are another 2,000 miles of roads on the rest of the Tongass. The Forest Service has already stated that just to improve the ability of existing culverts to pass fish will cost some $60 million, let alone upgrade 4,000 miles of road. Sen. Murkowski just stated that while the entire state needs some $750 million for roads, it most likely will get far less. I think I read where there seems to be some federal and state cost cutting going on, like we can't afford to pay for education, seniors, clean water and a few other basic services..

Your point, Lew, must to be to cloak new roads as serving communities with cheaper power and access while the real reason is to continue to subsidize the timber industry (since the Clinton Roadless Rule never prohibited transportation or transmission corridors).

The timber industry you support has cut itself out of the most accessible, biggest and best trees and bilked the public out of millions of dollars (the most recent example being the Ketchikan Borough's suit against Gateway veneer plant and the millions of dollars involved. Why no criminal charges were filed should be the topic of public debate.).

We have already close to 1 million acres clearcut in Southeast Alaska. The almost 500,000 acres cut on Native corporation land were cut with minimal protection for fish and little, if any, protection for wildlife. The money trees were and continue to be exported, so that the manufacturing jobs never benefited our workers and communities.

The 500,000 acres cut on national forest, the Tongass, were done with an average of $30 million/year, of taxpayers' subsidies. Current new timber sales list something like 40-60 percent of the trees to be exported, again costing local manufacturing jobs. There are enormous hidden costs with the past, current and future large scale timber industry. The culverts not allowing fish to reach spawning and rearing areas is just one example. Consider the toxic waste that Ketchikan is stuck with at Ward Cove. Consider the loss of wildlife habitat and the loss of subsistence. You have said in the past that no such losses have occurred. Respected scientists disagree with your conclusions. Just fly over Southeast on a clear day at 20,000 feet and it is pretty obvious to the casual observer of the dramatic changes that clearcutting have brought to our region.

Lew, you credit this new road plan as being created by the Forest Service and the Southeast Conference. While they seem to be promoting this it might help to have some public review.

I'll bet there are some folks who have a comment or two. I just read where Tenakee is opposed to planned massive clearcuts directly across from town. Perhaps they would like to comment on the new road plan?

But, Lew, you are right. Southeast Alaska does have a bright economic future. It just happens to depend on there being wild places with abundant fish and wildlife. It also depends on small scale logging with local manufacturing.

The reason Green Peace and other national and international organizations are so upset about the Tongass and willing to take this issue on is because this place we call home is of national and international importance. That in itself is of huge value to our economy. Let us not destroy that value, but take advantage of it.

K.J. Metcalf of Juneau worked for 20 years for the Forest Service on the Tongass.

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