My Turn: Better to stick with Bradfield Canal Road facts

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

As the old saying goes, if you have the facts then argue the facts, if you have the law then argue the law, if you have neither then pound the table. Lorne Sexton's recent letter about the proposed Bradfield Road shows that he has resorted to pounding the table and petty name-calling. Let's step back from his diatribe and look rationally at the facts surrounding the Bradfield Road proposal.

Fact one: Sexton's assertion that studies haven't been done is simply untrue. Nearly all of the studies done on the road so far have concluded that there would be significant negative effects on BC communities like Stewart, Smithers and Prince Rupert.

In 1997 a study for the Alaska Senate concluded, "...a Bradfield Canal road connection would presumably harm Prince Rupert." A U.S. Forest Service report in 1998 concluded, "Development of the Bradfield corridor to provide access to Canada would be in direct economic competition with both" Stewart and Prince Rupert. A 1994 study by Juneau's McDowell Group stated, "There is concern that a road link between the Cassiar and Southeast Alaska would funnel benefits from mining, timber, and tourism activity in British Columbia away from Canadian communities such as Stewart and Prince Rupert." In 1989 a study for the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines found, "With the Bradfield Route there could be a considerable shift [in economic activity] out of BC and into Alaska."

Continuing to promote this road in the face of these studies is likely to increase Canadian bitterness about U.S. economic policies.

Fact two: B.C. politicians and citizens have consistently opposed the road. Opposition is not simply from a small group of conservationists, as Sexton falsely claims. This past May the acting mayor of Stewart, B.C. said the Bradfield Road "would not be a positive thing for us." In July, B.C. MLA Bill Belsey said, "They [BC ministries of Intergovernmental Relations or Transportation] have no intentions of going ahead with" the Bradfield Road. Several hundred residents of B.C. communities like Stewart have signed petitions opposing the road.

It makes no sense for Alaskans to continue promoting a road that our Canadian neighbors oppose so strongly.

Fact three: The Forest Service has concluded that such a road would cost nearly half a billion dollars. Alaska is right now cutting road maintenance budgets and can't maintain the roads it already has. Spending scarce transportation dollars on the Bradfield would worsen this problem.

Fact four: Neither Sexton nor Alaskan road supporters like Robin Taylor have produced any hard facts about the potential benefits of the Bradfield. Taylor has tried to sell the road as the solution to Southeast Alaskan fishermen's' woes. Spending half a billion dollars to put Alaskan salmon on a truck for transport to Lower 48 markets makes no sense. Farmed salmon is the threat to Alaska fishermen right now and it would be far more effective to spend money on better marketing, a better ferry system and improved air service rather than a road into B.C. Such efforts would provide far broader benefits than the Bradfield Road.

Lastly, I take great offense as Sexton's characterization of road opponents as "terrorists," which comes only a few weeks after Robin Taylor used the word "nazis." How is this the "fair hearing" that Sexton wants? The Transboundary Watershed Alliance and other road opponents have looked at the facts, researched the studies, met with both sides, and have asked legitimate questions of road supporters. Instead of a civil debate, these road ideologues have resorted to petty name-calling. I guess that is the last resort of people who simply don't have any facts to back up their allegations.

Chris Zimmer of Juneau is the U.S. coordinator for the Transboundary Watershed Alliance.

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