Issues for meaningful debate

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004

Ketchikan Daily News By Lew Williams

Enough of the greenie-bashing; give Alaskans a meaningful debate about how to care better for the nation's oceans.

We agree with the Anchorage Daily News editorial writer up to a point: "Enough of the greenie bashing; give Alaskans a meaningful debate."

The rest of the sentence refers to criticism by Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski of the Pew Ocean Commission report. It concludes that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which Stevens authored, must be revamped to reduce the influence of commercial interests. The report concedes, however, that the council is a successful operation.

Murkowski, a lifelong Alaskan, and Stevens know what happens when foundations such as the Pew Family Trust finance environmental organizations to come to Alaska. It's the greenies who bash. They bash Alaskans and their livelihood.

As for "meaningful debate," former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat seeking the Senate seat held by Murkowski, sat on the Pew Ocean Commission. So fishermen can debate meaningfully: Keep successful management in place or give the greenies more say.

When Bill Clinton was elected president, he infested his administration with environmental activists who needlessly destroyed most of Alaska's timber industry. Knowles, governor at the time, did nothing to help Alaskans who are still being bashed by greenies protesting every timber sale. Gov. Frank Murkowski, by contrast, is making state timber available to keep the remaining small mills in operation. The "meaningful debate": Support a struggling industry or stamp it out.

Just before Congress adjourned this month, Sens. Stevens and Murkowski authored legislation that encourages U.S. corporations to bring jobs back to the United States. It also provides incentives for constructing the natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the Lower 48. Knowles says the legislation is ineffective. He would not have supported it. He also said it grants special tax concessions to corporations such as Exxon Mobil. Exxon says not so. "Meaningful debate": gas line, yes or no.

When Gov. Frank Murkowski was in the Senate, he pushed for a larger land grant for the University of Alaska. The university, in the largest state, has a smaller land grant than schools in every state except Delaware. The Alaska Legislature tried to grant land to the university but Knowles vetoed the legislation. When his veto was overridden he took it to court and lost. The university can now select land. The issue: Should the university be able to use revenue from land to reduce its impact on state finances

Alaska and its Natives haven't received all of the lands to which they are entitled under the Statehood Act and the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA). Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation to speed transfer to the state of 60 million acres remaining of the 104-million-acre grant, and speed the transfer of 29 million acres remaining of the 44 million owed Native corporations. It would speed transfer of 2,500 parcels of land owed Natives under a 1906 law. The legislation also provided for a land trade by which Cape Fox and Sealaska would receive usable land at Berners Bay that could be leased to Coeur Alaska, developer of a gold mine in the area.

The land trade is opposed by Knowles. Democrats in the Senate refused to attend a committee meeting considering the bill, in effect killing it, in order to help Knowles. Another issue for meaningful debate: finish the land grants, yes or no.

Greenies oppose the land swaps as they oppose land grants, logging, road building, gas lines, oil exploration, mining and soon commercial fishing. They allege Cape Fox is trading stump-laden worthless land for prime timber land. That's extremely inaccurate. Cape Fox never would trade off land it harvested up to 25 years ago that is sprouting beautiful second growth. That land supports healthy fish and game populations and promises high value timber for the next generation.

When Native corporations received land grants under ANSCA, Cape Fox, based in Saxman, couldn't select within 6 miles of Ketchikan and could not go outside its township. That resulted in the corporation being forced to take high ridges and mountain tops. The federal government can have those back. It was the only Southeast Native corporation so treated. Klukwan, close to Haines, was allowed to select on Long Island, hundreds of miles south of its village.

In Sealaska's case, it gave up land on Admiralty Island, at the behest of greenies, to take land at Berners Bay. It has turned out to be a bad deal for Sealaska unless the mine develops. Murkowski's bill, a version of which already passed the House, protects public access and the environment and also gives Sealaska access to ancient burial and cultural sites.

There is more unfairness in the land claims settlement for which needed amending legislation has yet to be introduced. Five communities in Southeast - Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Haines and Tenakee - received no land grant like the larger town of Juneau and others. This is particularly unfair to Wrangell Natives who occupied their area before written history. Chief Shakes' brother, George, sold the Russians a small piece of land near Shakes Island in 1834 on which Redoubt St. Dionysius was built. That became Wrangell.

Above are a few subjects to debate before Nov. 2. We expect Alaskans to vote, as they did in 2002, for progress, despite bashing by greenies, Knowles and several Alaska newspapers gleefully bashing the Berners Bay land trade.

The Sacramento Bee, flagship newspaper of the McClatchy Co., owners of the Anchorage Daily News, last week endorsed John Kerry over George W. Bush for president. ADN dislikes the Murkowskis and favors environmental organizations, judging by "meaningful debate." So, don't be surprised if the newspaper, like Knowles, favors Kerry, who vehemently opposes drilling for oil in ANWR. Now there is a real subject for "meaningful debate."

• Williams is retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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