SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


As expected, Gravina will be developed
By Laine Chanteloup


July 30, 2007
Monday PM

Some passengers return to their cruise ship: they will have a good dinner, wonderful view of Southeast Alaska and a new night on the boat until their next stop. Some workers get in their cars and the flow of traffic increases, becoming heavier. Shops, opened for the cruise ships, organize their items for the next day and put the closed sign in the door. Some inhabitants prepare their dinner. The Borough Assembly is still empty; the meeting will begin in 30 minutes. It's 5 o'clock, a simple Monday evening in Ketchikan. It's raining.

5:30pm: the Borough meeting begins. Tonight, an important decision concerning Gravina development will be made. The first alternative for the bridge is too expensive, and other alternatives should be prepared, cheaper ones. Ketchikan inhabitants, journalists, pro- and anti-bridge folks, and those in between are all together in front of the Borough Assembly. Outside, below the gathering hall, a few concerned citizens stand up with signs. For once something is different along the main street of Ketchikan. Who are they? What do they want?

Their signs call for a public process for Gravina access. The traffic slows down. Drivers want to read the signs. Some jewelry store employees show up. These people are in front of their shop. What are they claiming? They read the sign too. What is Gravina? is their main question. The employees come from New York. It is time for the people standing outside to explain what's going on. Time to speak and inform people that the Borough would like to decide on a bridge with or without public comment. Finally, to convince the New York inhabitants, one of the sign-bearers explained: "Gravina is our Central Park, we need to protect it".
Some tourists armed with their rain gear stopped as well. They know the issue, they disagree with any kind of bridge, they are convinced that the bridge will never happen. What they don't know it's that the Gravina Access Project is already going on. The "Murkowski Highway" has already destroyed wetlands and opened up new territory for invasion.

6:00pm: The public comments begin. Involved citizens come to speak in front of their representatives. Some called for the stop of any bridge, any roads; others know already that Gravina is probably a lost battle, but ask for public input in order to better plan for access to Gravina. At the least they expect the public process to continue. It will be not fair to decide on access with only this Borough meeting. Moreover, due to a sad special circumstance, some people (almost all the native community) are not able to come to the meeting to speak: there is the memorial for Bill Thomas, an important leader for the Ketchikan community.

Outside, the vocal citizens begin to sing. "This land is my land, this land is our land. From Bostwick Inlet to Vallenar Bay. Gravina is made for you and me". Some bystander cast a glance. They read the sign: "Call the borough". Call the borough for what? Oh! To have a voice on Gravina Access. But the project is cancelled due to the lack of money? Isn't it? What? A new bridge project?

In this world where information is everywhere, it is more and more difficult to be informed. We are groggy by the over information and we think that we know everything. Nevertheless, we need constantly to stay in touch.

Along Grant Street a musician arrived.

6:30pm: The last comments about Gravina access are stated. An inhabitant flayed the Tongass Conservation Society who still dare ask for a public process and full analysis of options. Yet, tonight during the Borough meeting there is no environmentalist association. There are only involved citizens who would like to have a voice and to be heard.

In the street, the state trooper cars pass around for the 4th time in front of the group of citizens. They are still singing. They moved a little bit, because some cars parked just in front of them, hiding their signs. A jewelry store owner got out of her shop, and she is furious. The concerned citizens are in front of her store. They move again, still singing.

A car with two girls stop, they ask the singers and sign holders for directions. They are searching for the musician.

In front of the Masonic Temple, a sound begins. It's a melody.

7:00 pm: Two sign holders have left to go to Bill s funeral. A new one has replaced them. They shout some slogans now. The flow of cars slows down. Ketchikan inhabitants are at home. They turn on TV, put some frozen food in the oven. The stalwarts on the street put away their signs and enter the Borough meeting, just in time to hear the final judgment: "Gravina needs to be developed, and it need to be developed now". Public input, why? Here is the borough s decision.

Why should Gravina be developed?

To eliminate or curtail subsistence access to the native communities? Native people are already dominated. Why not increase this situation?

Some Gravina inhabitants live on Gravina for its wild areas, without roads, with bears and deer in the muskeg. They can go away and sell their place for million $ contract. Why not?

Some Gravina inhabitants have a specific link with this island. It is their home, it is the place where they grew up. It is the love of their life. This undeveloped island talks to them: it's the kind of connection that human words can not explain, but which exists anyway. But, these inhabitants made a mistake, because this island will be developed to please the Murkowski family, Don Young, and those who rant and rave on Sitnews because they own developable lots on Gravina.

So, the Borough Assembly votes. As expected, Gravina will be developed with the alternative F3. A bridge will connect the island to Ketchikan. A cheaper bridge, but a bridge.
7:15 : The disappointed citizens leave. At least, everything was not in vain. Some people stopped to speak with them about Gravina issue. At least, they received 20 or so support from drivers, 40 or so smile and greetings, and only 5 or so "Carl Webb" middle fingers. A part of the goal was achieved: people were interested in Gravina, and a public process.

Nevertheless the borough sounds not the least bit interested to know what Ketchikan and Gravina inhabitants think about the new bridge planned.

Outside, the vocal group of citizens recognized the two girls: they smile. They finally found the musician. A saxophonist plays with the echo of the cover parking lot on Grant Street. The music is in the air. The people stop at the entrance of the garage and enjoyed the peaceful moment brought by the melody. Thanks to the music everything is not so bad.

It's 7:20 on Monday evening in Ketchikan. It is still raining.

Laine Chanteloup
Ketchikan, AK

Received July 27, 2007 - Published July 30, 2007

About: I'm studying political science. I would like to be an involved citizen, because nothing changes without interest in anything. I have great respect for environmentalist, because their battle is pure and ethical. They fight for the public interest and not their personal and selfish wallet.

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