SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Carrier-ing on with Gravina Access


April 04, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- My desk phone jangled, “Mr. Kiffer?” the serious voice queried, “this is Fridley Bofkin (not his real name) of the San Francisco Comical (not its real name), do you have a minute?”
jpg Dave Kiffer

It was nice of him to ask, usually big city journalists just start in asking questions. They figure us small town folks are just sitting around picking our toes anyway and have nothing better to do than act as humorous fodder for the cultural elite on slow news days.

“Uh, sure, what’s up?”

I said that with trepidation.

“The Bridge to Nowhere” was back in the news and it was probably one of those calls.

It was kinda nice when people were calling about the “Tatsuda Bear” last year, those were fun calls. “Bridge to Nowhere” calls are like the “Sarah Palin” calls, nothing good comes out of them.

“It’s about that aircraft carrier.”

“Uh huh.”

“Are you folks serious about that?”

“Depends on your definition of serious.”

I wasn’t trying to be clever, I just didn’t want to come right out and ask “Fridley” if he had accidentally taken stupid pills that morning.

“There was a report in the Navy Times on-line blog about it.”

“Uh huh.”

“So are you folks serious?”

Where to start, where to start.

We have been pondering better access to Gravina Island for nearly 40 years. We’ve talked about bridges, we’ve talked about causeways, we’ve talked about tunnels. Heckfire, we’ve talked about ziplines and catapults.

The issue is a serious one and millions of dollars have been spent on it.

Not all the suggestions are serious though and some have simply bubbled up out the frustration that a lot of talk and money and time have passed “under the bridge” and nothing much has happened.

Yes, the decommissioned “aircraft carrier” suggestion is in the news now.

It’s not a recent idea. My good friend, the late Pete Figueroa, first suggested it in a humor column for the Ketchikan Daily News back in the early 1990s. That was before the “Bridge to Nowhere” but certainly well into the long-running debate over Gravina Access.

In Pete’s case, it was clearly satire. Besides the physical access, he noted that the lower decks could be flooded to create an aquarium, you could use the nuclear generator to power all of Southern Southeast, you could use all those crew quarters to house the summer tourism folk.

He even noted that you could cut flying time to Prince of Wales Island in half by using the catapult to fling Beavers and Otters over top of Gravina at a gazillion miles an hour.

These days, we would say Pete’s idea was “all good.”

Of course, we are not talking about Pete’s idea, we are talking about a similar idea that was proposed in a letter to SITNEWS recently. As is often the case, that letter spawned other letters. Some supportive, some indignant. Never underestimate the ability of Ketchikaners to rain on each other’s parades.

Now – through the magic of the Internet – the “idea” has spread beyond our insular little world and that’s why someone outside thinks there’s a news story there.

Of course, it only works – as a news story – if the reporter can determine that the powers that be in Ketchikan are really serious about it. Then it falls into the “Geeze what a bunch of doofuses those guys are” category.

People love those stories. We always like to read about what idiots other people are. We feel more secure in our “exceptionalism.”

Are we serious about sticking an old aircraft carrier in the middle of Tongass Narrows and using it as a “bridge to our future?”

Probably no more than the other suggestion that we just start blasting at the “rock pit” and don’t stop until there’s enough rock in the channel to build a causeway.

Once upon a time, someone would have probably just started doing that and we wouldn’t have been arguing over Gravina Access for the past 70 years.

I suppose that once upon a time we could have just strung together some sort of rudimentary ship “bridge” across the Narrows.

Only then it would have been a couple of four-masted schooners or perhaps a steam ship or two.

So what did I tell Mr. Bofken?

I told him that the Community of Ketchikan is open to any opportunity to improve our access to Gravina Island.

Too bad the phone call was on April 2 and not a day earlier.

Editor's Note: The author, Dave Kiffer, is currently the Mayor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

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More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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