Cook Inlet proves industry, wilderness can co-exist, thrive

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

When you experience something every day, it's easy to take it for granted.

Residents of the Kenai Peninsula are accustomed to living in a place where the wild and the human-made intersect, where people and animals not only live side-by-side, but are dependent upon one another for their well-being. They also live in a place where vastly different industries have carved a niche for themselves based on the area's natural resources, including oil, gas, fish, magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife.

It's a unique way of life that has drawn the attention of others.

Recently, for example, a contingency of British Columbia offshore oil and gas stakeholders, representing provincial and coastal communities, government officials and First Nations leaders, visited the Cook Inlet region on a three-day fact-finding mission seeking information that could help spur development in the coastal waters off B.C.

They are hoping to avoid mistakes made here, as well as learn from Alaska's successes.

"We're seeing a mature industry ... that wants to do things right, and we want to take a page out of your book," provincial assembly member Bill Belsey said of the area's oil and gas activities.

Among the things that most impressed the visitors was the willingness of the community to work together to resolve tough issues related to economic development. The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council provided the delegation with a powerful example of how industry, science, environmental and economic concerns have come together to as Mr. Belsey so aptly described it "maintain an industry that has paid a lot of bills."

The delegation also went home with vivid images of a commercial fleet fishing near oil rigs and setnetters pulling nets and picking fish between the LNG and Agrium docks.

Those images reinforce the fact that oil-and-gas development does not have to be at the expense of everything else. It is possible to have a healthy oil-and-gas industry and a healthy environment. It is possible for different, sometimes competing, industries to come together to find ways to do things that benefit the entire community.

The fact that the oil and gas industry and the commercial fishing industry have existed even thrived side by side in Cook Inlet for decades makes a powerful statement about the uniqueness of the peninsula's economy and the men and women behind it. Those industries also have allowed for a healthy tourism market.

Arriving at this point hasn't always been easy, but the hard work has definitely been worth it. The kind of cooperation exhibited by the different industries on the peninsula does, indeed, pay a lot of bills.

State economists say the greatest strength of the Kenai Peninsula's economy is its diversity oil and gas, commercial fishing, sport fishing, tourism, timber, retail, plus a broad-based public sector.

Residents will celebrate that diversity during Industry Appreciation Day from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kenai park strip. It's an opportunity to take a new look at what the B.C. delegation saw the ability of a community to work together to maintain a healthy economy and a healthy environment. While industry may be the primary bill-payer, if it weren't for the beautiful environment and abundant wildlife, most peninsula residents likely would live elsewhere. Industry may provide the jobs that keeps food on our plates, but it's the environment that helps feed our souls and keeps us here.

Industry Appreciation Day will include food, music, drawings and entertainment for the entire family. It also will honor individuals and businesses within the peninsula's major industries. It is a great way to recognize and say "thanks" to the various industries and workers who have helped mold the unique character of the Kenai Peninsula.

And it's proof positive that you can mix business and pleasure.

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