Great ideas and quotes from bygone days

Thursday, January 5, 2012 - 11:35

Over time we have a tendency to forget some of the great ideas put forth by our Alaska luminaries and others. Launching into a new year, perhaps it’s time to take a look backward. To the best of my recollection, here are some famous and infamous ideas advanced over the years, as well as a few priceless quotes.

U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening believed that we could provide Alaskans and future generations abundant and inexpensive hydroelectric energy by damming the Yukon River and creating a body of water larger than Lake Erie. That project, which never got legs, was to be called the Rampart Dam.

Project Chariot was a 1958 US Atomic Energy Commission proposal to construct an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson on the northwest coast of Alaska by burying and detonating a string of nuclear devices. The plan was championed by physicist Edward Teller, who traveled throughout the state touting the harbor as an important economic development for America's newest state. Alaskan political leaders, newspaper editors, the state university's president, even church groups all rallied in support of the massive detonation. Opposition came from the tiny Inupiat Eskimo village of Point Hope, a few scientists engaged in environmental studies under AEC contract, and a handful of conservationists.

In 1962, facing increased public uneasiness over the environmental risk and the potential to disrupt the lives of the Eskimos, the AEC announced that Project Chariot would be "held in abeyance." It has never been formally canceled. The history of Project Chariot is recounted in the book The Firecracker Boys by Dan O'Neill.

In the 1960s, Governor Bill Egan proposed closing off major rivers to create what he called “a vast, inland fishery.” It was his answer to preventing foreign fishermen from catching Alaska salmon on the high seas. It is common knowledge, of course, that most of an adult salmon’s growth occurs in the ocean and that this kind of biological control would lead to stocks of dwarf, or jack salmon.

U.S. Senator (Alaska) Mike Gravel once proposed building domed cities in Alaska’s Interior.

Back in the 1970s, State Senator Clark Gruening introduced legislation to legalize personal use and possession of marijuana—and the bill passed.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the State of Alaska invested considerable income in establishing barley fields in Delta Junction. The idea was that grain would be grown in Delta, shipped by rail to Valdez, and then by shipped overseas to Asia. The project was never brought to fruition — farmers built farms, Valdez built a terminal — but no grain ever left the state. Governor Hammond's dream of broadening Alaska's economic base through large scale agriculture never came true.

Landmark quotations

And then, over time we’ve heard some quotes that seem to echo across the state forever. In the mid-1970s, for instance, Capital Relocation Committee Chairman Willie Hensley was quoted as saying: “Too many people seem to think they are floating to heaven on a sea of oil” in respect to Alaska capitol move proposals, one of which was moving it from Juneau to Mt. Yenlo. That project was estimated at $2.7 billion. Voters never approved the funding initiative.

When asked about the genesis of the capital move controversy, the then Anchorage Times publisher Bob Atwood said: “I created it!”

Remember this one? Defending proposals for aerial hunting to control wolf populations, former Alaska Governor Walter J. Hickel said: “We can’t just let nature run wild.”

Hickel also proposed building a water pipeline to the lower 48 states as a solution for water shortages in the western and southwestern U.S.

When the debate on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was at its peak in the 1990s, former ARCO President Harold Heiinz described the ANWR coastal plain as “nothing more than a flat, crumby place…”

For decades the clarion cry of the late Joe Vogler, Alaska Independent Party chairman and political activist, was for Alaska to secede from the union and become a separate country.

Here’s a famous quote that still evokes an icy chill in many Alaskans: “You’re looking at it...” Those terse words were spoken by Joe Hazlewood, captain of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez, as he responded to the question “what’s the problem?” by U.S. Coast Guard officials after the vessel under his command ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in March of 1989, resulting in a massive oil spill.

Renowned explorer and adventurer Colonel Norman Vaughn vowed to return to Antartica in 1994 on his 89th birthday to climb the 10,302-foot mountain named after him during his 1928 expedition to the South Pole with Admiral Byrd. He and his party actually summited the mountain Dec. 17, 1994, two days before his 89th birthday.

Hint: During the 1996 race for Governor in Alaska, in which Tony Knowles was the victor, his opponent said: “We’ve done nothing illegal in this election campaign.”

That was Alaska democratic gubernatorial candidate John Lindauer responding to charges that he received illegal campaign contributions from his wife.

And then more recently, we saw Gov. Frank Murkowski’s popularity plummet at terminal velocity after he eliminated the Longevity Bonus program for long-time Alaskans.

After Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller received a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court that dismissed his lawsuit challenging the 2010 election in which U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski prevailed as a write-in candidate, retaining her Senate seat, Miller commented: “I’m weighing my options…”

In retrospect, life in the 49th state would have been much less interesting without the great thoughts and ideas put forth by our fellow Alaskans. And we can be assured, there will be many more in years to come.

Frank E. Baker is a lifelong Alaskan and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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