Archive for the ‘transportation’ Tag

Framing the Kobuk Road   3 comments

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the topic came up recently and I thought it was appropriate to re-run it. Lela

 

While the Yukon River Access Road (currently just the 54-mile Road to Tanana with a distant dream of taking it all 500+ miles to Nome) is welcomed by the majority of the residents of the corridor, not every community wants roads for a variety of reasons.

Source: Framing the Kobuk Road

I make no secret that I think my mother’s people are among the most bigoted ethnic groups in the United States. Although I am a stateside Indian, I see the same cultural prejudice at work in the Inupiat and Athabaskan of Alaska. I find it odd that a people who so pride themselves on a history of non-ownership of the land are so greedy for it in this generation. I’m told that’s the Caucasian in my blood stream talking. If I weren’t a “breed”, I’d get it. Then they turn around and say white men are greedy for land in an unhealthy way.

Related imageAnd, people wonder why I think my Indian cousins are bigots ….

Can we just admit that mistakes were made in the past, but that we live in a different era today, so should start working together as the human race, not as separate competing silos of skin color? As one who stands astride more than one silo and does not see a compelling reason to choose which part of my DNA to reject, this bigotry got old and worn out a long time ago. That’s my transracial rant for the day. Back to the subject at hand.

Sometimes the real issues involved in building a road or developing a mine get obscured with the window-dressing of environmental and cultural issues. Let me lay it out for you. The Kobuk region is losing population fast. The old folks are dying off and the young folks are moving away. It’s approaching a point where the only ones still left in Ambler are the alcoholics and bootleggers – those who can’t leave because they can’t function in the modern world and those who won’t leave because they derive a benefit from those who can’t function in the modern world. The Kobuk region is a beautiful place and there are some truly lovely people who come from there, but those truly lovely people tell me that Ambler is in trouble. There are plenty of theories why. Some would say it’s all the fault of the “white man” who came bringing “alien ideas” and telling the young ones that the life there wasn’t worth living.

I’m popping bubbles today.

Eskimos make their own choices just like everyone else. If you don’t want to lose your culture, make it worth keeping. Sexual abuse of minors and alcoholism are not cultural values worth hanging onto. For those who are self-aware, the causes are a bit more complicated than “the white man caused it.”

Life in a Native village that is not connected by road is isolated and limited. You collect wood to burn, you haul water, you hunt and fish in season, you pick berries and grow a garden … and then you sit in the cabin all winter and stare at four walls. That might have been enough when they didn’t know there was more, but that time went away a long time ago. Now the mind-numbing boredom of eight months of winter wears on a person. Alcohol is readily available and Alaska allows its citizens to grow their own pot. Both drugs are depressants. The television brings in images of places where it is warm and sunny and you can do something besides stare at four walls or haul water. The imported teachers try to educate the kids, but when you’ve been up all night hiding under your bed to avoid your drunken father’s sexual advances, it’s really hard to even go to school, let along concentrate on algebra or English, skills that would allow you to move to Anchorage or Fairbanks or even just Kotz and get a job. The suicide rate among teenage Natives is huge. The alcoholism and drug addiction rate is even higher.

Then there’s Tim’s family. They are a Native family that lives in Fairbanks. They have a nice home and jobs and they don’t drink. I go to their house for agutaq (Eskimo “ice cream”) and muktuk (whale meat) and they tease me because I don’t understand the appeal of seal oil. Tim’s mom is an Inupiat from Kotzebue whose mother is from the Kobuk, but his dad is Yupik from the Bethel region. A century ago their ethnicities were at serious war with one another. Today they’re married. They foster kids from the villages. Most of the kids they foster are doomed before they ever get them. When your mother drank a fifth of whiskey every day while she was pregnant with you, your brain doesn’t develop correctly and you are forever damaged by it. But occasionally, they get kids who can take advantage of the non-drinking environment to get an education and learn to keep those parts of their culture that are worth keeping and adopt those parts of modern culture that are worthwhile. Tim talks about his “brothers and sisters” who now live out on their own – some going to college, some to trade school, some of them now have jobs and families of their own. They go back to the village to visit, but they don’t live there.

Would they chose to live there if there were jobs not only to provide money to buy food, fuel, etc., but also to provide adults the dignity of meaningful work and to alleviate the mind-numbing boredom?

Some say they would. Some of them point out that the opposition to the Kobuk road is driven by outside environmental interests more than by local sentiment. When you’ve got someone whispering in your ear that all it would take to save your village is to seal the modern world out and that a road would do just the opposite, you’re going to fight against the road. But the modern world has already brought a corrupting influence to the village. Bootleggers wouldn’t bring the alcohol in if villagers didn’t buy it. The television that helps to relieve the boredom of the parents also brings in glimpses of the world beyond the village that tempt the children to leave.

There’s no sense closing the barn door after the cows have run off.

The State of Alaska also has an interest in building the road that goes beyond the economic benefits of providing access to the mineral prospects. There are costs associated with people sitting on their asses not producing anything of value. Village police officers are needed to keep drunken idiots from beating each other to death or gang-raping young girls. I’m not making that up. Read the Alaska media and you’ll see this happens often. Health aides are needed to treat the affects of alcoholism and drug use. Mental health clinicians are also needed to combat the damage done by a culture of alcoholism and sexual abuse. The State of Alaska provides a school for every village with at least 15 students, but the students aren’t learning because of the alcoholism and resultant chaotic environment. Public assistance dollars must go to support a “subsistence” lifestyle that increasingly depends on modern technology – rifles, snow machines, 4-wheelers, power boats, fuel to power these items and heat your home, sewer treatment to deal with the effects of staying in one place for generations, etc.

The road would provide jobs and access to services and allow the people of the Kobuk Valley to start supporting themselves rather than forcing those of us who don’t even live there to support them so they can live there. But it would also provide them with a reason to get up in the morning and do something with their lives besides stare at four walls. It’s not a panacea for the cultural sickness in the Kobuk Valley, but it might well be a step in the right direction, a step away from deliberate isolation in the interest of protecting a culture that was never as lovely as portrayed and has become undignified and damaging to generation after generation.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Keeping a stranglehold on a culture that is dying doesn’t save the culture. It just kills the people who are doing the strangling. Adapting to the inevitable might help them save those parts of their culture that are worth saving.

Who Will Build Roads If Not Government?   1 comment

An argument is often made that if you did away with government, you would have no roads, or very poorly maintained roads with expensive tolls because private industry wouldn’t take care of them. BS!

Image result for image of alaska marine highway

There is money to be made in moving stuff around, so roads (and other means of transportation) would still exist, just funded by the people who want and use them.

Consider Alaska, which has a unique transportation system because 80% of our communities are not accessible by road. Thus, the State of Alaska operates the Alaska Marine Highway System and Federal Highways treats it like a highway for funding purposes. The argument is made that, should the State of Alaska stop operating the AMHS, the communities that currently rely on it would have no access to the outside world. BS!

Image result for image of coastal transportation, incLast week, AMHS announced that the Tustumena was delayed at the Vigor Ketchikan Shipyard for two months. The Tustumena services the Aleutian Islands in the summer and takes a beating in heavy seas, which it is designed for. The delay was due to the discovery of additional extensive steel wastage in the engine room and necessary repairs. It is anticipated the Tustumena will return to service departing Homer at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 18.

AMHS staff explored several options to fill the transportation void resulting from the Tustumena delay. Safety was the highest priority, so utilizing the Tustumena was not an option. The use of another AMHS vessel was not viable without the risk of a more widespread and disruptive service outage both in terms of passenger disruption and financial consequences for individuals and for the marine highway system.

The Alaska Marine Highway System announced today that Coastal Transportation, Inc. will assist AMHS customers impacted by the delay of the M/V Tustumena. Coastal Transportation, based in Seattle, will carry cargo on an “as able basis” from Homer and Kodiak, to Aleutian Islands destinations, at the same cost AMHS charges. Unfortunately, Coastal Transportation is prohibited (by law) from carrying passengers.

Image result for image of coastal transportation, inc

AMHS customers attempting to rebook their cargo with Coastal Transportation should let Coastal Transportation agents know they are displaced AMHS customers to ensure they receive the AMHS rate.

Coastal Transportation transports cargo to communities further out on the Aleutian Islands all the time. This isn’t a hardship or something special really. It’s just making a few extra stops along its route. Why doesn’t it stop in those communities now?

  • AMHS services those communities at a subsidized rate so there’s no profit in it.
  • Coastal Transportation is prohibited from transporting passengers.

 

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities oversees 242 airports, 10 ferries serving 35 communities, more than 5,600 miles of highway and 731 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. Coastal Transportation transports cargo to hundreds of coastal communities. Yutana Barge Lines transports cargo to hundreds of Yukon river villages. Outfitting their ships to provide for passengers (once the legal ban has been removed) would take time, but it wouldn’t be impossible.

Image result for image yutana barge linesSo tell me again why transportation would not be available if the AMHS ceased to exist?

Now transfer that to the roads and you see why it’s a silly argument. Roads will exist and be maintained so long as there is commercial value in connecting communities. The differences would be in quality and the quality would likely be improved. A business would not stand for owned-infrastructure (roads) that fall apart every five years when there is technology available (and in long-term current use in Scandinavian countries) to build highways that last decades.

I used to be a skeptic about needing government to build and maintain roads. It was one of those areas where I couldn’t whole-heartedly agree with my anarchist friends. But this press release, which wasn’t intended to have this effect, has opened my eyes. If a commercial enterprise can substitute for the AMHS for a while, it can replace it and do a better job.

Adopt A Highway   Leave a comment

Image result for image of a gravel roadMy friend Mila sent this to me via email and it was intriguing enough that I researched it. Mila lives here in Alaska, but she was born in the Ukraine. Her husband Alex is from Russia. They escaped the USSR about two years before perastroika, so they know a thing or two about risking all for the chance at freedom. Maybe someday they will let me interview them.

Anyway … back to the subject at hand

 

The Moscow Times:

“Smugglers have transformed the gravel track in the Smolensk region in order to help their heavy goods vehicles traveling on the route, said Alexander Laznenko from the Smolensk region border agency. The criminal groups have widened and raised the road and added additional turning points, he said.

The road, which connects Moscow to the Belarussian capital of Minsk, is known to be used by smugglers wishing to avoid official customs posts and is now under official surveillance.

A convoy of trucks was recently stopped on the road carrying 175 tons of sanctioned Polish fruit worth 13 million rubles ($200,000). The produce was subsequently destroyed, TASS reported.

Local border guards, customs and police officers have checked over 73,000 vehicles entering Russia from Belarus this year, Laznenko said, claiming that the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the border from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year, he said.”

 

So, as I work on the 3rd book in Transformation Project (yeah, that’s right, I’m working on it even though the 2nd book is more than a month from launch), I’ve been asking myself these questions, trying to see beyond my marginally statist myopia.

Who will build the roads if the government doesn’t?

Apparently criminals will, if they need to and it benefits their own interests. And, catch what they’re bringing in — fruit.

Image result for image of truckload of fruitOh, the horrors of black marketing! Someone might get addicted to bananas.

The smugglers adopted a gravel road from Moscow to Minsk, raised it, widened it and added turning points. The secret project increased traffic and prompted a government takeover, complete with customs abuses.

So, let’s just take a pause and think about this. A company builds roads. By the way, the government does not build roads. The government gives money to companies to build roads. So the government goes away (or at least stops being able to fund roads) and the company does what?

Well, the statist answer is that they would go bankrupt because no roads would be built. The capitalist solution would be that they either build the road themselves and recoup the cost through tolls or they contract with the people who need to road to get their goods to market and build the road on their behalf.

See! No government needed! Just enlightened self-interest and a dump truck and grader.

The disappearing stimulus Republican American   Leave a comment

While traveling across the country with your kids this summer, be sure to buckle up and do your best to overlook all the potholes and crumbling bridges out there. Even if funding were available, things probably would remain in disrepair until your kids are grown, thanks to big government regulations and red tape.

Source: The disappearing stimulus Republican American

Posted June 10, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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Federal Devolution   Leave a comment

Reason Magazine suggests the solution to the collapsing Federal Highway Trust Fund is to “devolve” highway construction to the states.

https://reason.com/archives/2015/10/06/let-states-build-their-own-hig

I totally agree. I especially agree about states getting out from one-size-fits-all federal mandates. Alaska’s ice-challenged roads would benefit from adopting Scandinavian country highway construction techniques (which we have instituted on some state-roads, with good results) but we are not permitted to use these techniques because they do not meet federal standards.

I suspect other states would find the same experience if allowed to experiment.

Getting rid of the federal highway tax would allow states to increase their own highway taxes while being able to make the case for projects people in their states actually want and need rather than bridges to Ketchikan Alaska to Gravina Island. or the Big Dig.

It would also go a long way toward breaking the stranglehold Washington DC has on the states.

Posted October 6, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Transportation

Tagged with , , , ,

Group starts ferry between Bering Sea islands – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska News   Leave a comment

If government doesn’t do it … people might.

Group starts ferry between Bering Sea islands – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska News.

Ground Effect Vehicles: Adopting an Orphaned Technology   Leave a comment

Some technologies remain confined to niche markets while others break out to make a larger global impact.

via Ground Effect Vehicles: Adopting an Orphaned Technology.

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