- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

March 18, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Iditarod officials must review decision that avoided safer route out of Fairbanks

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race officially wrapped up with the finishers banquet in Nome on Sunday, but it won’t be the end of the discussion about the decision to restart the race at its traditional location in Willow with perilous conditions facing the teams.

Why race officials didn’t move the restart north to Fairbanks to avoid the near-certain injuries needs to be reviewed.

Crews did what they could to reconstruct a trail made thin to non-existent by limited snowfall and late-season rains that turned much of the route to ice and barren ground through the Dalzell Gorge and the Farewell Burn.

But it wasn’t enough. Not even close.

Injuries to mushers, dragged by flipped sleds, were plentiful. Damage to sleds was rife. Curse words probably littered the trail by the hundreds.

Four-time winner Jeff King, of Denali, told an Anchorage Daily News reporter this year’s trail was “the roughest I’ve ever seen.” He’s run the race 22 times. Don’t believe him? Watch a video clip of his nightmarish run through the Dalzell: http://youtu.be/dAHa-6VkUQY

Two-time champion Robert Sorlie was blunt, telling the newspaper, “They should not send people out there. It’s not safe . I’ve never been so scared before in my life.”

Musher Gus Guenther, of Clam Gulch, flipped his sled on the rough trail early in the race, breaking his leg and forcing him out of the running. He told the Peninsula Clarion newspaper that the barren, icy trail made it nearly impossible to control his dog team.

“When I got out there from day one it was frightening,” he said. “I couldn’t stop or slow down.”

And then there’s Scott Janssen, of Anchorage. He crashed his sled on a rock-strewn part of trail and was knocked unconscious after his head hit a tree stump.

“I’m very disappointed we didn’t leave out of Fairbanks,” he told a reporter for The Associated Press. “It would have just been another race had we left out of Fairbanks.”

By nearly all accounts, this year’s race was the toughest and most dangerous in the Iditarod’s 42-year history.

Iditarod officials will need to revisit their decision to run the race on its traditional trail and forego a safer run out of Fairbanks, which had hosted the Iditarod in 2003 when conditions to the south were poor.

It’s always easy to second-guess a decision. But when you run a high-profile event such as the Iditarod, being second-guessed comes with the territory. The only responsible course of action now is for race officials to review the process that led to a decision that put people and dogs at a higher level of risk and to make public their findings.


March 16, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: State makes a point in suing over federal failure to consider oil plan

Gov. Sean Parnell has taken the next step in the long-running, slow-moving effort to tap the energy resources of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain, an area that Congress decades ago recognized as having high oil and gas potential.

The governor on Friday announced that the state has filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over those agencies’ refusal to consider the state’s plan for exploratory oil and gas activity in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of ANWR as required by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

It’s a good move and shows that the ANWR battle, although quieted nationally by an unfavorable White House and Senate, is far from over.

The source of the disagreement between the state and the federal agencies stems from a 2010-2011 Fish and Wildlife Service revising the 1988 ANWR comprehensive conservation plan, which deferred handling of the coastal plain to a 1987 ANWR resource assessment report that recommended Congress approve an oil and gas leasing program for the coastal plain.

The revision put forward by Fish & Wildlife officials didn’t include an oil and gas option but did include two options for Congress to declare the coastal plain as wilderness.

That, rightly, set off some alarms in Alaska.

The state submitted an oil and gas exploration plan in 2013 but was rejected by Fish and Wildlife. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said authority for approving a plan expired with completion of the 1987 resource assessment report required by ANILCA.

The big flaw in the secretary’s argument, however, is that ANILCA contains no expiration date for the authority to approve a plan. The process outlined for approval of a plan of exploration activity remains on the books.

So the secretary must follow through with the process, which requires that any exploration plan submitted for approval and meeting the guidelines get at least one public comment hearing in the state and then be approved.

That hasn’t happened.

Section 1002 of ANILCA authorizes “exploratory activity within the coastal plain.” It defines the activity as “surface geological exploration or seismic exploration, or both, for oil and gas within the coastal plain.”

And that’s what the plan submitted to the Interior Department by Gov. Parnell proposes: 3-D seismic testing to obtain up-to-date information about the coastal plain, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration describes as “the largest unexplored, potentially productive onshore basin in the United States.”

It is hoped, of course, that fresh and fuller information about ANWR’s oil and gas potential will convince Congress and a future president -President Obama will never do it - to allow oil and gas development in the coastal plain.

We’re arguing over an area that Congress has already recognized as having high energy potential. Refusal by the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow a process that exists in law cannot go unchallenged.

The state seems to have a good case to make. Alaskans - Republicans, Democrats and others - should support the governor in this action.


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