FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Leaders of two northern territories in Canada are sparring over whose area would provide the friendliest route for a proposed natural gas line from Alaska to the Lower 48.
Stephen Kakfwi, leader of the Northwest Territories government in Yellowknife, says unresolved Native claims in the Yukon could hamper any gas pipeline that tries to follow the Alaska Highway.
But Pat Duncan, the Yukon's leader, says Yukon Native leaders aren't seeking to block the line.
In any case, she said, the highway route is firmly protected by a pipeline right of way that Canada's federal government set aside in 1982. That right of way has been exempted from any Native claims, she said.
Kakfwi traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to promote a pipeline across the Beaufort Sea and up the MacKenzie River valley. The line could carry gas from both Alaska's North Slope and the MacKenzie Delta. From the Arctic coast, the line would travel south entirely within the Northwest Territories, exiting into Alberta.
The route is cheaper, shorter and environmentally preferable, Kakfwi said. In addition, he said, the MacKenzie route is backed by Native leaders.
''We have unanimous aboriginal support along the entire route, which is not the case in the Yukon,'' Kakfwi told reporters.
Duncan said last week that Kakfwi has incorrectly interpreted statements by Yukon First Nation groups.
As far as she is concerned, Yukon Native groups do not oppose a pipeline paralleling the Alaska Highway through the territory.
''What they have talked about is not losing sight of their lands claims,'' Duncan said.
But even if the land claims are not settled soon, it's unlikely that opposition from First Nations could interfere with pipeline construction on an Alaska Highway route, Duncan said.
''There is a right of way for the Alaska Highway pipeline and the title is registered in the lands office in Whitehorse. Foothills Pipe Line holds it,'' she said.
In addition, the Alaska Highway route is prescribed in a treaty between the United States and Canada and is certified by Canada's National Energy Board, she noted.
A pipeline through the Beaufort Sea has its own jurisdictional problems, Duncan said. The U.S. and Canada dispute the boundary. The Yukon government's authority offshore is also under dispute, she said.
The offshore route also has enormous environmental challenges, said Ken MacGillivray, Duncan's communications director.
''You already have groups like Greenpeace chaining themselves to drilling rigs off Prudhoe Bay,'' MacGillivray said. ''Imagine if you tried to lay a pipeline.''
Kakfwi, the Northwest Territories premier, said the MacKenzie valley route has been recognized as environmentally sound for 25 years.
In addition, ''the aboriginal leadership is now involved fully in the governments of the territories. Most of our legislatures have been dominated by aboriginal peoples for the last 15 years. We are sitting on joint management boards for wildlife, for land use, for water ... So we are right on the front lines and we think that we can manage development in a way that will make sure our people benefit from it.''
Kakfwi said aboriginal groups from his region have been working with promoters of the MacKenzie valley route -- Houston-based Arctic Resources Co. -- to gain an ownership share and contracts for pipeline work, together with Alaska Native organizations.
Kakfwi met with Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, while he was in Washington. His pitch didn't convince the senator, though. Murkowski issued a statement after the meeting reiterating his support for the Alaska Highway route.
Murkowski's top aide, David Garman, said Friday that they've seen nothing to indicate that Yukon First Nations pose much of a threat to the Alaska Highway route.
Sen. Ted Stevens on Friday also dismissed such worries.
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