Updated: September 15, 2015 at 12:04 pm
Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
Sept. 11, 2015
Juneau Empire: Presidential reality TV
It was Alaska's best reality TV series.
With the benefit of a week of hindsight and contemplation, that's our conclusion of the recent visit of the 44th President of the United States to the 49th state.
In his three days in Alaska, the president stopped in Anchorage, Dillingham and Kotzebue. He spoke at an international conference on the Arctic, grabbed pastries at Snow City Cafe, walked to Exit Glacier, was milted on by a salmon and learned an Inupiaq dance.
He made no major policy changes or announcements, and he took no questions from any member of the Alaska media — not even from the Alaska Dispatch News, even though he dined with that newspaper's millionaire owner during a two-hour fundraiser.
His only significant action of the trip was taken on the Friday before his arrival, when he allowed the Secretary of the Interior to restore the name of Denali.
His three days in Alaska were little more than an opportunity, as Rep. Don Young said, "to use Alaska as a prop."
It's disappointing, but we had no right to expect anything more.
Until recently, this state was offering millions of dollars per year in tax credits to film and TV companies whose sole purpose was to create Alaska-themed entertainment. The tax credit program was designed to create an Alaska film industry, but it accomplished its goal about as well as the Alaska Aerospace Corp. has encouraged an aerospace industry or the Delta Barley Project grew agriculture.
The best outcome of the surge in Alaska TV programming has been increased Outside attention — something that has resulted in a small bump in tourist figures. From May 2010 to April 2011, Alaska attracted 1.777 million tourists. From May 2014 to April 2015, it attracted 1.946 million.
As people saw Alaska on their TV sets, they saw Alaska in their mind's eye and their vacation plans.
The president's visit has surely done the same — and without a multimillion-dollar tax credit. Moreover, the president's trip reached the most important audience of all: the president himself. In the final 497 days of his term, the president will have a better idea of the Alaska experience. It won't be a perfect one — after all, it was only three closely guarded days — but it's better than the one he had before.
The president's visit was intended for a Brooklyn audience whose closest encounter with a Sitka Spruce is spruce-tip beer. It was directed at foreign ministers who will address climate change at a December conference in Paris. Its message was launched at members of Congress who have been lukewarm on the crisis of climate change.
The president said during his trip that he'd love a chance to come back again. We hope he does, whether as a private citizen or as president. If a president makes another such visit, it would be nice to have a chance to address the problems specifically facing Alaskans. Climate change has gotten attention. Transboundary mining, the need for better relations with Russia, the rights of tribal governments, the boundaries between federal and state law enforcement — these are the burning issues that need attention just as much as climate change.
Sept. 13, 2015
Juneau Empire: Fireweed vote trades closure for questions
An Assembly meeting earlier this month was supposed to provide closure on the fate of Juneau's "Field of Fireweed." Why, then, are so many questions lingering?
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly went behind closed doors Sept. 5 to decide Bicknell's zoning appeal. The company's owner wanted to rezone the 82-acre field for industrial and light commercial use, in addition to its current rural reserve status.
Assembly members were permitted to discuss the appeal during executive session since it was acting as a judicial body. Although permitted, shutting out the public was a mistake, especially considering the 5-4 vote immediately following the closed door session. The vote upheld the CBJ Planning Commission's denial of Bicknell's appeal. Why did Assembly members vote the way they did? That's the question that most needs answering.
No other zoning issue in the capital city in recent years has been as emotionally charged as the field of fireweed debate. And that's the problem with this situation — it's been driven by emotion more than reason. Those who enjoy the aesthetic qualities of the fireweed have applied consistent pressure on city officials to deny the rezone since it was first heard by the Planning Commission nearly two years ago. It's been described as "iconic" and "welcoming" by those who would see it forever remain a field of fireweed.
If no fireweed were present, would anyone have cared what Bicknell wanted to do with the land, which borders an airport landing strip and Juneau's only major highway? One thing is for sure: those protesting the rezone wouldn't have showed up to public meetings with large fireweed photos pinned to their shirts.
By discussing the issue in private, residents don't know if the five who voted against allowing the appeal did so because they felt pressured by fireweed enthusiasts or other, more specific reasons. Perhaps a rezone to industrial doesn't mesh with Juneau's waterfront development plan, or maybe added traffic congestion from an additional turn off on Egan Drive was a deal breaker. We just don't know why Assembly members voted the way they did, but we should. Part of being a public official is explaining your reasoning, especially if you hope to attract others to your side.
Visually pleasing or not, private residents don't have a right to tell Bicknell how to maintain its land or what to grow on it. That's like preventing your neighbor from turning a flower box into a vegetable garden, or deciding what color they can paint their house. It's nice if residents have grown to appreciate Bicknell's fireweed, but that doesn't give them partial ownership of it. It's property, not a public park.
There's many reasons why the rezone could have been denied, but if the Assembly continues to work behind the scenes when deciding such disputes, it only serves to leave the rest of us in the dark. With an issue as emotional as the field of fireweed, residents deserve to know how Assembly members came to a particular conclusion so they can weigh the merit of that argument. In other words, if they voted in favor of the Planning Commission because they think fireweed is pretty, their record should reflect as much.
It's one thing to not agree with an elected body's vote; it's another to be left clueless as to why.