My turn: Families and jobs in Southeast

Posted: Sunday, November 09, 2008

It's time to stop the monkey business. In the October local election, all five Assembly candidates running supported diversifying our economy. We all agreed good paying jobs were essential for the well-being of our community and the Southeast Region.

I know if we want to keep our young people here, we have to encourage and support diversifying our economy.

If I could wave a magic wand, we could have both tomorrow. We could have a more diversified economy and good high paying jobs. We have studied and examined both the Kensington Mine and the Lynn Canal Highway to their maximum. It's now time to get off the dime and move forward with both projects.

Our region is dying. Juneau is barely holding its own. Many are moving to our town from the villages; this is a good thing and I welcome and thank the people and businesses that have chosen to move here. They are an asset and benefit. Their hearts, spirits, and faces mix and mingle with our own citizens. But Juneau and Southeast cannot survive without diversifying our economy and increasing our job base, now. We, all of us, need to stand up and shout, "Enough is enough."

If I could, I would wave my magic wand and put 220 employees to work at the Kensington Mine, along with the 150 support employees, each of them working in family wage jobs with the benefits that mining offers.

If I could, I would wave my magic wand and put 300 construction workers to work on the Lynn Canal Access Project, along with 170 support employees, each of them with the good wages and benefits that construction offers.

What an opportunity and positive change in attitudes and feelings for all our families in the Southeast Region this would be. These 840 jobs would help change the worst downward spiral our region has seen in decades. We would see good jobs for everyone who wanted to work. Our families would be thriving and the jobs would instill hope and encouragement in our region for decades to come.

Coeur Alaska and the State Department of Transportation want to see the mine and the road move forward. Let's support them both and make it happen - demand that these projects start now. Both are ready and committed to start these economic engines for our region. They could start tomorrow if we could wave a magic wand and give the go ahead. Let's stand up and move forward together in a positive manner and reverse the downward direction of our economy. The cards have been dealt. In our hands we hold the fate of our present and our future.

We can move in a positive direction or continue our downhill slide. We could continue to watch our families and young people leave and our communities slowly die. Instead, let's encourage these projects in every manner possible. Let's stop the decline in Southeast.

Join me in standing up and shouting at the top of our lungs; we want and need economic improvement, we want jobs, and we want our kids and grandkids to be able to live and afford to stay in Southeast.

When I sat at the Rock Dump and then Sandy Beach gathering my thoughts, looking up at the mountains, at the forests, at the sea, I felt the spirit of the people that came before us - the Native community who survived here for time immemorial - the fishermen who went to sea, the miners who went into our mountains, the loggers who harvested our forests. These people gave us the path to follow.

It was a path not of despair, but rather one of hard work, survival with a can-do attitude. They showed us we can get through hard times. The opportunity is in our hands. Let's take it and move forward. Join me now and speak out. No, shout out at every opportunity. We need to make things happen for the good of our region, for the good of our individual communities, for the good of our families. Let's move forward positively, let's get the Kensington Mine and the Lynn Canal Highway going now.

• Merrill A. Sanford is a Juneau resident and Juneau Assembly member speaking for himself.

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