Military drawdowns hurt rural Alaska population

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Military base closures of the 1990s hit hard in parts of rural Alaska and the population of Anchorage's northern suburbs swelled, according to Census 2000 figures released Monday by the state.

The Western Aleutians population tumbled 42 percent during the past decade.

And as Anchorage, the state's largest city, runs out of room to build, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is flourishing. That borough saw its population rise by 49 percent since 1990.

''The (Matanuska-Susitna) valley is the next logical place to build,'' said Greg Williams, state demographer with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The big drop in the Western Aleutians is due to the closure of the Adak Naval Air Station in 1997. The Cold War-era outpost was the state's eighth-largest city in the early 1990s. About 6,000 people lived on the island in the mid-Aleutians.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the base was closed. A small group of residents is currently trying to attract the fishing industry and marine researchers to the island.

The population in that region dropped from 9,478 in 1990 to 5,465 as of April 1, 2000.

State Rep. Carl Moses, who represents the Western Aleutians, says despite the dramatic drop in population, Adak's closure hasn't hurt the region economically.

''They were in a world of their own out there,'' Moses said. ''Nearly everything they were involved in was directed toward the Lower 48. They even had their own transportation system.''

The Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, which covers a broad swath of the Interior, saw its population drop 23 percent. The decline was due, in part, to the closure of the Galena Air Base. In addition, the area lost part of its territory and population with the creation of the adjacent Denali Borough in 1990.

The Bristol Bay Borough also had a drop in population. The closure of the King Salmon Air Base contributed to a 10 percent population decline for that region.

Southcentral Alaska continued to draw more people than most other parts of the state. The Anchorage Borough population grew 15 percent, while the number of people in the Kenai Peninsula Borough climbed 22 percent.

The Juneau Borough saw a 15 percent increase in population, but the Ketchikan Gateway Borough number rose just 1.8 percent as the big Ketchikan pulp mill closed.

Fairbanks saw its population grow by 6 percent.

The Mat-Su Borough population jumped from 39,683 to 59,322. The increase is no surprise to those who've watched the area grow from a handful of small, bedroom communities to a sprawling suburb, bursting at the seams with traffic and big-box stores.

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