No more second chances; build the gas pipeline

In the first month of 1910, archdeacon Hudson Stuck mushed into the Yukon River village of Rampart and found decay.

“There is no resisting the melancholy that hangs over a place like this. As one treads the crazy, treacherous board sidewalks, full of holes and rotten planks, now rising a step or two, now falling, and reads the dimmed and dirty signs that once flaunted their gold and colours, one conjures up the scenes of rude revelry these drinking places witnessed a few years ago.”

Rampart, like so many of Alaska’s Gold Rush towns, faded once the gold left. As the days of Alaska’s black gold decline, we must find new money, new ways of doing business, or all of Alaska might resemble Rampart.

On Easter Sunday, lawmakers approved a plan that calls for the state to negotiate a partnership and build an 800-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski.

We’ve heard this before — Gubik in 1959, Yukon-Pacific in the 1990s and the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act in 2007. This time is different. There are no more second chances.

The state is forecasting a multibillion-dollar budget deficit next year. If that forecast holds true for the next few years, the state will soon exhaust its financial reserves and be forced to tap the Alaska Permanent Fund, revive a state income tax or slash programs beyond the bone.

This will happen with or without a pipeline. It took nine years from the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay for the first barrel to reach Valdez, and gas should not be expected any sooner than 2024, according to current estimates.

In the next decade — barring an unexpected rise in oil production — Alaska could dig itself a deep financial hole.

A gas pipeline is a rope out of this hole. Natural gas revenue will buy the state a soft landing — time to get its financial house in order.

Without a pipeline, the state’s financial picture will resemble a Bush plane plunging to Earth.

The legislation approved this month isn’t perfect — it may give too much away to pipeline builder TransCanada — but there’s still time to refine the pipeline agreement. Engineering and design will begin this summer, and legislators will have plenty of opportunities to argue about the pipeline before the first section is laid.

We may argue about the details, but one thing is certain: We must build a gas pipeline.

Without it, the ghost of Rampart looms: “How high the hopes of sudden riches burned in the breasts of the men who went in and out of them, doomed to utter disappointment in the vast majority!” Stuck observed.

A pipeline may be Alaska’s last chance to avoid that utter disappointment.

— Juneau Empire,

April 25

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