U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski was right at home Saturday at Kenai Peninsula College, in spite of the fact that he has been forced to vacate two Washington, D.C., offices due to the threat of anthrax contamination. Murkowski, who recently announced his candidacy for governor, was the keynote speaker during the second half of the two-day Kenai Peninsula 2001 Economic Outlook Forum.
The precautionary measure of leaving his offices meant leaving paperwork behind and relocating staff in four different buildings. Two of his employees also have undergone testing for anthrax exposure.
"It has set a new tone in Washington, D.C.," he said.
It is good to breathe Alaska air, Murkowski told the Saturday crowd.
"We have to prevail," he said of the battle against terrorism. "We know what it is like to live with fear. We don't want to bring our kids and grandkids up with that fear."
Focusing on the forum, he described economic development as a pyramid whose base is a strong economy.
"I think this is one of the unique areas where you have a balance," he said, listing natural resources, commercial and sport fishing, oil and gas, tourism and mining.
"You look at the Kenai Peninsula and it's very vibrant. You can feel the effort to stabilize and build on this economy."
Although he recognized the ingenuity and commitment of peninsula residents, he cautioned them to not "rest on your laurels. That's when you get into trouble."
The greatest thing happening on the Kenai Peninsula is the introduction of small companies from outside the area.
"These companies don't come to Alaska because they're in love with Alaska," Murkowski said. "Make no mistake about it ... they're here for the return on investment."
The potential opening of 2,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development would be the most dramatic single stimulus to the national economy on the horizon, Murkowski said, reporting growing support for that effort.
"Where else can you find a single national issue with the magnitude of ANWR?" he asked. Prospects indicate between 5.6 and 16 billion barrels of oil compared to almost 10 billion barrels produced to date at Prudhoe Bay. He anticipated that development of ANWR will create 250,000 jobs spread across some 40 states and pump $6.3 billion into the federal treasury from lease sales.
"The politics are pretty heavy," Murkowski said, with the Democratic leadership actively opposing a vote on the subject.
With regard to the proposed pipeline to carry natural gas from Alaska to markets in the Lower 48, Murkowski announced the reconstitution of a 1976 partnership between major natural gas transmission companies. In the mid-70s, this group was granted permits and presidential approval to transport gas through a pipeline paralleling the trans-Alaska pipeline to Delta and continuing south along the Alaska Highway. The lack of a business plan and a $4.2 billion liability against the system dampened the enthusiasm of North Slope producers. However, the group has eliminated the liability and announced it will have a plan ready to present to the producers by early 2002.
Murkowski said this regrouping should add to the possibility of gas line extensions to Valdez or the Kenai Peninsula. Challenging the audience to consider related possibilities, he mentioned the value of a railroad spur to the peninsula.
He urged forum participants to reflect on the changes happening in the state.
"Our most important resource is our youth," Murkowski said. But the trend is for young Alaskans to leave the state in search of employment opportunities.
"When you see that kind of movement, you have to ask what's happening here."
Economic booms in Alaska's past have masked the need to diversify the economic base, Murkowski said. And he cautioned against a reliance on federal dollars.
"That surplus is gone as a consequence of this war," he said.
Focusing on fishery issues, Murkowski said the state's congressional delegation is relying on Alaskans to provide them with accurate information.
"Since you know so much, you've got to come up with answers," he said. "We don't know what's best for fisheries. Biologists have to tell us and they have to be accountable."
In closing, Murkowski told the gathering, "You're shaping the future of the Kenai Peninsula for your children and grandchildren. Their future is in your hands."
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