My Turn: Southeast communities interdependent

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

Over 250 delegates from Southeast Alaska recently met in Craig for the annual Southeast Conference. The conference is an opportunity for the region's business and government leaders to gather to discuss transportation issues, the economy, and opportunities to enhance the quality of life of the region's residents. Participants heard presentations on all of these topics, as well as a report about the economic impact of a legislative move on Southeast Alaska.

Dozens of communities from Yakutat to Hydaburg expressed overwhelming support for Juneau's efforts to defeat Ballot Measure 2. In turn, Juneau was urged to lend support to Southeast communities that are struggling with economic hardship due to the collapse of their fishing and timber economies. Clearly, many of our neighbors also face difficult challenges.

With reapportionment and the decline of legislative representation in Southeast, the elected leadership in Juneau has an opportunity, and I believe a responsibility to reach out and provide representation to our neighboring communities. Southeast Conference is an excellent forum to learn about the priorities and concerns of our neighbors.

Craig is located on Prince of Wales Island, 30 miles from the ferry port of Hollis. Nearly 2,000 residents live in Craig and nearby Klawock alone. Due to the efforts of community leaders on the island, the new InterIsland Ferry Authority (IFA) brings twice-daily service to the island in the summer and daily service in the winter. Reliable transportation has strengthened this region and in 2004 the IFA will bring a new ferry on line to link northern Prince of Wales Island with Petersburg and Wrangell. The ferries operate without subsidy. The ships are fuel-efficient and well suited to the Southeast environment. The IFA complements the service of the AMHS and does not compete with any of the AMHS service routes.

Craig proper produces its own hydropower. The community has a new high school, miles of recreational trails and modern water and sewer facilities. Many fine inns provide excellent service at reasonable prices. Craig is connected to the other communities of Prince of Wales Island by an extensive road system, with over 100 miles of paved roads. Nearby Klawock has an airfield, and leaders from this community would like to see it expanded to someday attract jet service to the island.

Conference participants received information on the Southeast Intertie project. The intertie will substantially reduce power costs in rural Southeast by using clean hydropower. Reliance on expensive fossil fuels will be greatly reduced when the project is completed, and hopefully new businesses will emerge. Many communities in the region are anxious to tie into this project since power costs reach as high as 2 1/2 times what we pay in Juneau.

Over the past few years, hundreds of families have left Prince of Wales Island, and the impact of their departure is felt by everyone there. This is a community that isn't defeated. They are independent minded and hard working and determined to regain a sustainable timber economy. As the community looks to diversify its economic base, and strive for sustainability in fishing, timber, tourism and government, Juneau should do everything we can to support their efforts.

Living in Juneau, it is easy to forget that we are part of something much bigger - a community of small, isolated communities linked historically by resources industries and more recently by tourism. I am grateful to Southeast Conference for reminding us that we really are one region and we need each other, perhaps now more than ever.

Cathy Muñoz of Juneau is the Republican candidate for Juneau's seat in the state Senate.

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