SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


The Gravina Saga and Some Responses
By Gregory Vickrey


July 04, 2007

There have been a number of interesting letters written about Gravina and the roading activity of late (the still illegal Bostwick road, the costly Gravina "Access" Highway, etc.) and I would like to comment on some of the points raised, specifically because at least one writer pointed out the position of the Tongass Conservation Society, and generally because this will continue to be a centerpiece issue for the communities of Ketchikan, Saxman, and Metlakatla.

Jeff Hendrickson wrote the first piece I would like to respond to, and raised some very salient points.

"I have watched the arguments going on over the Gravina Road and the Roads on the Tongass for a long time now and I for one am getting really tired of the opinion that nobody wants roads to any of these areas."

I am not sure who has made the point that there should be no roads developed in the Tongass region. TCS certainly hasn't. TCS cares about special places, of which there are many in the Tongass and we would like to see those places conserved for specific reasons, given their place in our collective lives. Gravina is a good example. Entire communities are dependent upon the south end of Gravina Island for customary and traditional use (subsistence). Gravina also is a cherished part of our viewshed here at home. The roadless portions of federal land and elsewhere on the Island are prime habitat for wildlife and right at our back door. I could go on and on about different values that Gravina has represented to the culture of Ketchikan over the years, and we would rather not have those values and those opportunities taken away from future generations for a quick buck.

As for me, I am getting really tired hearing that Gravina is our only option for development. It isn't. There are prime opportunities for redevelopment and development here on the home island of Revilla - if only the Gravina prospectors would step back from the shortsighted view that Gravina is the be-all-end-all. And, while we fixate on spending our federal handouts for Gravina, our infrastructure crumbles, we miss the boat (literally and figuratively) on a dedicated link to the expanding port at Prince Rupert, make shady deals with unproven developers at Ward Cove, etc. and etc.

"I hear continually that we need to keep these areas road free so that people can enjoy the areas by hiking into them. What about those who cannot hike due to handicaps or other physical limitations? Do those people have to be stuck to the town just because they are handicapped? The Tongass is 17+ million acres in size, what is the problem with making some of it accessable for those who aren't able to get to it any other way? There are a lot of places to go for those who are physically able even with a few roads going into some of these areas."

Recreational opportunities for all - and the infrastructure to create those opportunities - are areas where we agree, Jeff. Comparatively, the Forest Service's budget for recreation related to timber activities is completely out of whack with the diverse economic opportunities afforded to us within this national treasure. With over 5,000 miles of road in the Tongass, and a proper budget focused more on multiple use (as mandated), the Forest Service could do a lot to address accessibility.

You mention Bostwick, specifically, in your letter. And while Bostwick may be well suited to recreation, we have to consider other primary users specific to the site; as previously stated, the south end of Gravina Island is the breadbasket to Metlakatla and others. Given this reality, it really only makes sense to not compromise an important (and sustainable) food gathering area for an entire community.

"I for one would like the ability to go other places, on this island or Gravina, by road, to be able to camp and picnic, but it seems like every time we start getting close to that possibility the vocal minority (TCS) put a stop to it. So much for the rights of all."

I am not certain what picnic areas TCS put a stop to, so perhaps you can email me directly and we can chat about it; we can also talk about other areas you believe make sense for recreation on Revilla and elsewhere. I suspect we will agree on a number of opportunities, so please be in contact.

Shelley Stallings wrote the next piece, and spoke even better than I have on the subject of the Gravina "Access" Highway AKA Frank Murkowski Driveway.

"Spending over 25 million dollars for 3 miles of gravel road on Gravina Island is crazy. Why? How do you and I get our cars over to Gravina to drive on this fancy new 3 miles of dirt road? If the state has this much money to waste wouldn't the daily life of Ketchikan residents be much better if this money was used to improve the poorly maintained roads we already have here on Revillagigedo (Revilla) Island? Aren't you as tired as I am of having your teeth rattled, your shocks blown out, your tie-rods and ball joints worn out, your tires punctured as you drive to work each day?"

The poor road conditions on Revilla are despicable. So what would it take to get permission to spend the federal portion of the money on this side or elsewhere? Don Young could submit a request to his colleagues in Congress to re-appropriate or remove the earmark. Governor Palin would have to ask for such a thing. But first, she needs to delay or cancel the contract - which should be do-able given her level of fiscal conservatism. The other option: the state could simply not spend the federal dollars, and utilize the state portion of the funding on other projects - like repairing and improving Tongass Highway.

"25 million dollars for 3 miles, that is over 8 million dollars per mile for a gravel road, dare I say it - to "no where". And we all know the final price will be much more than 25 million dollars, probably more likely to be 30 million or more. That much money would go a long way toward fixing the roads we already have while at the same time providing work for local people repairing our roads here on this island. Building more new roads means less money available to maintain the roads we now drive on, is this what we want?"

That $25.7 million is currently going to a contractor from Anchorage (Kiewit Pacific) that provides healthy kickbacks to our friend Don Young and others. Put a healthy sum like that towards repair and improvement on Revilla and we could go along way towards avoiding having to replace our fillings at the dentist each time we cruise to work. Yet the Borough and Alaska Department of Transportation keep moving forward with the same message that essentially places a higher priority on this "access" highway than they do repairs along Tongass. What sort of community does that? And at tonight's Borough gathering (07.02.07) we discover that the state has, in its coffers, at least $68 million available that will be stubbornly directed towards the fantastical bridge! I asked if it could be used elsewhere (like on Tongass Highway) and was told yes, with the caveat that we (the Borough and the people) have the political cajones to ask for it. Will the borough? Will the people? Whether or not you, the reader, want a bridgedoesn't it make sense to repair Revilla first? Or do we remain convinced we can keep raiding the cookie jar endlessly?

"Contact Governor Palin and tell her we want this money to fix our local roads, not build another one of Frank Murkowski's pipe dreams. She has already cancelled many of Murkowski's outrageously expensive projects. Do it today before another dollar is spent on this waste of our money."
Well said!

The next letter was written by LeiLani Lake.

"It absolutely amazes me the amount of ruckus being made about the 3 miles of road on Gravina and our "bridge to nowhere". Give me a break - the bridge would not be going to nowhere is goes somewhere depending on which island you are on at the time. The airport and Ketchikan are both somewhere I believe. If you looked at every bridge or road from a narrow point of view there would be no roads or bridges anywhere. It all depends on your point of view. Does anyone in Ketchikan really care about a bridge or road in Tennessee? But they are built and the people using them used our federal highway dollars to do so."

In my opinion, most of the ruckus has to do with those of us with the viewpoint that it's completely asinine that roads on Revilla suffer from neglect and dilapidation over the course of years while Frank Murkowski can rush though a contract for an $8 million per mile highway towards his property. Must of the ruckus has to do with the lack of common sense priorities of the Borough and Department of Transportation.

"I was in Louisiana last year and from what I could see, the entire lower portion of that state has one viaduct or another for use as their road system. Call the road system a viaduct or a bridge but I have never seen anything quite like it before. Louisiana has the lowest living standard in our country, someone has to pay for all these roads, and it is you and I along with all the other tax paying people of our nation that pay for it."

For every one dollar we pay in taxes in Alaska for Highway projects, we get 5 dollars back.

"In my opinion, Ketchikan should have the bridge and the road and there should not be any question. We need the road for access just like any other community wanting access to there surroundings and in our case an airport that happens to be on another island."

Lots of people who may want access to Gravina, by ferry or by bridge, think we need to fix the roads on Revilla first.

The last letter, by Don Hoff Jr., repeats several facts many people turn a blind eye to, including the Borough and Alaska Department of Transportation.

"The same politicians that wanted the bridge to nowhere, now want the Gravina Island road to nowhere that will cost the American tax payers $25.7 million for a 3.2 mile road, for whom? Is Governor Palin taking over where Governor Murkowski left off? If I do my dividing right with my calculator, it will cost the tax payers 8.03125 per mile of road. It is an insane project!"

This is a load of money for a gravel road towards Frank Murkowski's property. And as I say ad nauseam and have detailed above, this is at the expense of prioritizing repair, maintenance, and improvements for Tongass Avenue. Most people in town get understand this. Why can't the Borough? Why can't the Alaska Department of Transportation?

Dream of the fantastical bridge? Fine. Prospecting on Frank's acreage? Super. But neglect Revilla with skewed priorities? Absurd.

"Let's think about this for minute? Who is going to be driving or using this 3.2 mile of road, there are only 50 residents that live of Gravina Island and most of them don't live near this proposed 3.2 mile road. It stinks of timber industry and former Governor Murkowski's family owns 33 acres of gold mining claims. What a scam on the residents of Ketchikan, Alaska and the American people.

"To the people that want to drive over bridges, there are thousands you can drive over in the lower 48 all day long if you want. My opinion is that Kiewit Pacific has a major conflict of interest in getting the contract. Governor Palin should cancel this Gravina Island road contract and I know Governor Palin is smart enough to figure out that the money will be better spent somewhere else, like repairs to Tongass Ave roads and sidewalks in Ketchikan, Alaska."

If Governor Palin is a common sense fiscal conservative, as she has demonstrated with the use of her veto pen of late, she will.

Gregory Vickrey
Tongass Conservation Society
Ketchikan, AK

Received July 02, 2007 - Published July 04, 2007

About: Director of Tongass Conservation Society

Related Viewpoints:

letter Gravina Roads/ Roads on the Tongass By Jeff Hendrickson - Ketchikan, AK

letter Gravina Road By Shelley Stallings - Ketchikan, AK

letter Bridges & Roads By LeiLani Lake - Ketchikan, AK

letter As Ketchikan Turns, So does our Life By Don Hoff Jr.

Viewpoints - Opinion Letters:

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