My Turn: Road, Tulsequah mine development notes

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2001

State Sen. Robin Taylor and State Rep. Peggy Wilson, Wrangell Republicans, are back from meetings with government officials in British Columbia with good news. The British Columbia Liberal Party is interested in the Bradfield Canal Road and is encouraging the Tulsequah mine development. "Liberal" in B.C. means the opposite of "liberal" in the United States.

But there is a lot to overcome among members of Gov. Tony Knowles' administration. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, obtained $2.5 million several years ago to begin surveys and impact statements on the Bradfield Road. It goes up a mainland river valley between Wrangell and Ketchikan and hooks up with B.C. Highway 37 that runs north into the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake and south into B.C. Highway 16 near Terrace. The Knowles Administration has refused to accept the money and do the work.

Taylor said that earlier, when Walter Hickel was governor, Taylor managed to have $3 million appropriated by the Legislature for Bradfield/Lynn Canal access studies. The state ignored the Bradfield and spent all of the money on Juneau's Lynn Canal access. Then the governor killed the Juneau road access idea and is spending money on high-speed ferries.

Taylor and Wilson are optimistic they can gain more federal support for the Bradfield Road, especially with Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, heading the House Transportation Committee, and Stevens still sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bradfield's problem is in Juneau.

In addition to Knowles Administration policy, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, whose actions helped kill the Southeast timber industry, opposes the Bradfield Road. More than that it opposes any road access to Juneau. Its web site states: "Keeping the Tongass in the roadless rule would also block harmful roads such as the proposed Bradfield Canal, Taku River and Juneau-Skagway roads."

Taylor said he met with B.C.'s new minister of mines, Richard Neufeld, and his staff. In addition to being interested in the Bradfield Road to assist mining exploration, the Canadians are still interested in Redfern Mining's proposal to open the Tulsequah Chief Mine, also opposed by the Knowles Administration and environmental organizations. There was a mine operating at Tulsequah in the early 1950s supplied by Wrangell's Ritchie Transportation Company operating riverboats from Juneau up the Taku River. Alaska Coastal Airlines also provided scheduled air service to Tulsequah. Juneau did a lot of business with Tulsequah. Maybe not this time because Redfern plans to construct an 80-mile road from Atlin, B.C. to Tulsequah. That gives the company access to the continental highway system. Another 40 miles could give Redfern access to deep water at Juneau and Juneauites a road out.

To offset fears of Taku fishermen, Taylor suggests running the road up the Sheep Creek Valley, parallel to the Taku, and tunneling where necessary. It is something for Juneau residents to think about if or when the capital moves to Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley.

Rep. Wilson was impressed that representatives at the regional economic meeting passed two resolutions affecting the proposed natural gas pipeline. One favored a pipeline to ship Alaska natural gas down the Alaska Highway where rights-of-ways are secured. The second resolution supported Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, in his proposal to connect the Alaska Railroad to railroads in Canada and on to the Lower 48.

Conference attendees, which included 19 people from Alaska, suggested that the railroad and gas pipeline be constructed simultaneously with gas pipe shipped up the railroad as it is extended.

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

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