Alaska editorials

By: The Associated Press, Associated Press
August 29, 2016 Updated: August 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm
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Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

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Aug. 27, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Time to move 'Into the Wild' bus

Maybe this idea from one of our Twitter followers is what should be done about the "Into the Wild" bus, that dilapidated hulk in which California-born wanderer Christopher McCandless lived — and eventually died — on his journey of introspection in 1992:

"They should just install a pay phone and helipad out there."

And another Twitter added to that thought:

"Along with phone numbers of private helicopter companies. Not 911/SAR."

And so it goes. People regularly make the trek of curiosity to the famous bus each year, and invariably some of them can't get out. They get injured or they get trapped by the swelling of the Teklanika River.

Or, as was the case Thursday, perhaps both.

A man identified as 22-year-old Matthew Sharp of Manitoba, Canada, had sustained some minor injuries near the so-called "Magic Bus" and was stuck because of heavy rain and rising water, according to Alaska State Troopers. It's unclear from the report whether he could have hiked out had conditions been better; there was no information about his reported injury. Regardless, there he was.

So, once again, the state of Alaska came to the rescue, as it has so many times before. Mr. Sharp activated his personal locator beacon — he was wise to have one — and waited. Troopers arrived by helicopter and ferried him to Fairbanks.

The issue here isn't so much that public resources are so often used to rescue people from remote locations. Alaska advertises itself as a place full of remoteness and encourages visitors to come here to explore — and to spend lots of dollars while here. Rescuing people is just one of the costs of doing business and of simply living in Alaska.

But we can on occasion take steps to reduce the number of times people have to be rescued. For example, dangerous locations on trails in state and national parks usually are blocked off and marked as hazards.

So a similar proactive step should be taken with regard to old Fairbanks Transit bus 142, which is about 20 miles from the Parks Highway beyond the end of the Stampede Trail near Healy. Although the bus has become somewhat of a shrine and a pilgrimage destination of sorts, it needs to be removed. It's well past time that it be hauled away.

If not, there will be more rescues — rescues that clearly can be avoided.

The bus sits on state land adjacent to Denali National Park and Preserve, on the far side of the Teklanika River. Bus-seekers cross the river, camp and sometimes wake the next morning to find the river has risen too much, and they can't get back to the other side.

Romantic notions have become attached to the bus and Mr. McCandless, its mysterious occupant of two months. The problem with romantic notions, however, is that they easily lead people to act on emotion rather than reality. People trying to reach the old bus have been known to travel with inadequate gear and only rice for food in an attempt to mimic — or honor? — the trip and spirit of young Mr. McCandless, who at 24 arrived in Alaska in April 1992.

Removing the bus would almost certainly be met with opposition. It has gained wide attention through the 1996 best-selling book "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer and by the 2007 movie adaptation directed by Sean Penn and featuring Emile Hirsch.

But it should be removed, either to a piece of state land more easily and safely accessible or sent to the junkyard.

The book and movie, not surprisingly, prompted an increase in the number of people trying to reach the bus. The longer it sits there, the longer we'll be rescuing people.

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Aug. 26, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: A new road after a long wait

Wet weather delayed the opening of the first new road to an Interior village in decades, but the road to Tanana is finally set to make its debut. Next week, the road is slated to officially open for traffic. It's a historic development that speaks to the limited amount of transportation infrastructure in Alaska, as well as the many hurdles faced in expanding that infrastructure.

The idea of a road to Tanana had been batted about for many years before construction began. Those pushing for expansion of Alaska's road network saw it as a logical step, extending from Manley Hot Springs down the existing Tofty Road, then an additional 20 miles to the Yukon River on the opposite bank from the village. For former Gov. Sean Parnell, it was a stepping stone among several paths pursued under his "Roads to resources" framework. And while Gov. Parnell never won final approval for several other roads on that list, such as the ambitious and hotly debated road to Nome, the road to Tanana did become a reality, with construction beginning in summer 2014, during the final months of his administration.

Technically speaking, the road to Tanana isn't so much a road to the village as it is to the Yukon River's south bank a few miles away. To reach the village itself would require a bridge, one whose expense would likely dwarf the total cost of the road itself. Still, having a road so close to town will reduce the cost of reaching Tanana for residents and visitors alike.

It's important to acknowledge that not all residents in Tanana see that increased connectedness to the rest of the state as a positive. Though it will reduce the cost of transporting groceries and fuel, it will also likely increase traffic by out-of-town hunters who may make finding game more difficult for local residents. Like other villages faced with the prospect of growing connections to Alaska's urban centers, some are also worried about the erosion of traditional culture and increased problems such as drug traffic from outside the community.

The positives, however, will be considerable. Communities off the road system in Interior Alaska pay as much as $10 per gallon for heating fuel, a sum that makes Fairbanks' struggles with high energy costs look like a trifle. Though the new road is relatively rugged and less robust than even the most weathered stretches of the Dalton Highway, it should still provide some measure of price relief for fuel. And groceries, which formerly required transport via a slow boat or expensive plane flight, can now be fetched with a short boat ride and a few hours' drive into Fairbanks.

The road to Tanana has been a long time coming, and it hasn't been without its challenges, from politics to weather. But there's a new road to an Interior village for the first time in two decades, and that's reason for celebration — or at least a sigh of relief.

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