Highway misconceptions

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, October 04, 2004

On Sept. 15 the Empire ran a column that asked the question "The road to Juneau: Not if, but when?" It's a great question. Although I don't agree that we ought to build a road I worry the column could be right about Juneau's ability to resist one.

The column presented the hypothesis that population centers draw roads to them like magnets, but this isn't correct. The same line of reasoning is being used successfully by developers on many fronts even when the facts are backwards. Fairbanks and Anchorage became population centers because roads were built to them, not the other way around. Prior to having a road, Fairbanks and Anchorage had a populations of 3,500 and 38,000, respectively. There has been a 10-fold increase in population.

Even if a road to Skagway were feasible without massive pork-barrel subsidies, we have to ask ourselves if we want that kind of growth. The logic that you cannot resist development is being used to justify development worldwide and I worry the proponents might be right. Here in Juneau we are in the process of approving the mining and logging of Berners Bay and one argument in favor of development is that sooner or later a generation is going to come along that is greedy enough to spoil the bay: We might as well be that generation.

On a larger scale the Earth is warming up and we could stop it but we won't. Oil companies and the politicians they have purchased say it is economically difficult to use less oil or find alternative energy. We shouldn't try even though the consequences of global warming are dire. The harsh reality is that we don't have the ability to completely control our future. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge notwithstanding, the oil companies acknowledge that chronic shortages are less than 20 years away. Mike Bowlin, chairman of ARCO, said in 1999 that, "We've embarked on the beginning of the last days of the age of oil." It is a scary thought but we can't create oil and we can't seem to shake our addiction to gas-hogs. The forces of development may find a way to sucker the taxpayers into paying for a road that crosses more than 60 avalanche chutes between here and Skagway, but there may not be any gas left to drive on it.

Carl Reese


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