Friday, June 6, 2008

Magnificent, desolate isolation -- Juneau style

Many Canadians may remember the intense debate about the "fixed link" project for a road crossing between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Proponents tried to point out how it would reduce costs for the island, in particular the agriculture industry which would no longer be tied to the ferry schedule. Opponents were just as assertive that it would destroy the way of life on the island, laid back and introspective. In the end, a referendum approved the concept and the bridge was built.

A decade on, the Confederation Bridge certainly has been a success, but it's also had its price. The tourist board in PEI still promotes the "gentle island" but the frame of mind one got oneself into to merely visit the place is lost forever.

I was thinking about that when I read this article in today's NYT about a proposed road link from the presently isolated capital of Alaska, Juneau. While the road about 80 km long from Juneau to Skagway and Haines would link the city to the rest of the North American road network, many in the city are actually against the idea -- citing the environmental toll and pointing out that the city is readily accessible by ferry already. Others, of course, favour the project because of among other things the current dearth of employment opportunities in the panhandle -- which has a familiar ring to those who remember the bridge debate here in Canada.

For a state that has gotten a bad rap for paying its people royalty cheques from the Alaska Pipeline to shut up about the toll the oil industry takes, and its often enthusiastic support for the ANWR project, it's interesting to see there are some people who actually favour their isolation. No one knows where this is going to wind up, but for some the Last Frontier should be just that and that alone is a progressive concept.

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