My Turn: Great change in Southeast

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2003

KJ Metcalf couldn't be more wrong in his Aug. 4 My Turn. The forest products industry is a vital component of Southeast's economy, along with fishing, mining, tourism and if you live in Juneau, government.

Much of the timber harvest costs spoke of in the article were for infrastructure development such as roads and log transfer facilities. It's important to keep in mind these improvements were not just for harvesting existing timber, but to also access second and third rotations and numerous other national forest activities. So the initial cost should be amortized over several years.

In recent times there have been additional costs to the Forest Service and private industry for harvesting national forest timber. This is due in a large part to fallout from the Clinton administration and legal fees associated with nuisance law suits filed by environmental organizations. Recent state legislation should help slow down the frivolous lawsuits, and the currant leadership in Washington D.C., is working to eliminate unnecessary financial burdens to the industry.

Metcalf's complaint about the condition of Prince of Wales (POW) logging roads is over-stated. The fish populations in the POW area are in good shape, and are predicted to stay so well into the future. These logging roads are well used and a great asset to POW. Residents use them for hunting and fishing, access to firewood and for the pure enjoyment of driving around the island.

The state and federal movement to connect rural Southeast communities and the mainland with a series of roads and short ferry runs also seems to rub Mr. Metcalf the wrong way. This program as explained to me by Sen. Ted Stevens was Ernest Gruening's vision of surface transportation for Southeast.

To help fulfill this dream, Sen. Stevens provided the necessary financial assistance to develop the Inter-Island Ferry Authority (IFA). The southern IFA vessel currently sails between POW and Ketchikan, and in '06 the northern route will operate between POW, Wrangell and Petersburg. The IFA, in conjunction with the Alaska Marine Highway System, existing roads and roads to be built, will be the cornerstone for future surface transportation in this region, and a key component to rural Southeast's survival in the 21st century. Contrary to Metcalf's statement, the Clinton Roadless Rule was in direct conflict with these transportation plans. Incidentally, former POW logging roads will provide the land connection between the southern and northern IFA routes.

Although not directly linked to the transportation infrastructure project, the Southeast Electrical Inter-tie is the perfect complement to it. Eventually providing clean hydroelectric power to most Southeast communities, the inter-tie will be able to use newly constructed road corridors to access the B.C. hydroelectric grid. This will provide economic spin-offs to British Columbia and Southeast. Mr. Metcalf once again complains about the cost. Several years ago America's farmlands undertook a similar endeavor. The federal government made huge investments in infrastructure for vast rural areas with small populations. These farmers now feed our country and millions of people around the world. Not a bad trade off, and why shouldn't Southeast have the same opportunity.

It's a shame Mr. Metcalf is raining on the parade. This is a time of great change and optimism about the future. Those that pursue these dreams with positive energy will contribute to their fulfillment, and the naysayers that find fault with all things outside of their narrow, exclusive vision for Southeast will doubtless continue to be obstacles.

Dennis Watson is mayor of Craig, board president of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, and has been a commercial fisherman for 29 years.

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