Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is a retired teacher after becoming certified in Juneau after living there 20 years. Donn taught Adult Basic Education in the Anchorage community of Mt. View and in the Mat-Su Job Center between 2007-2017. He was named a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2013.
You can reach Donn Liston at email@example.com
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Alaska’s Capital Move Efforts: O Ye, of Little Faith
Once upon a time, the people of Alaska voted to move the state capital out of the backwater Southeast community of Juneau. By a vote of 46,659 to 35,683 a 1974 voter initiative “Relocating and Constructing a New Capital” called for the construction of the new capital “at one of two or three sites nominated by a selection committee appointed by the Governor…Construction must allow movement of offices to begin by October 1, 1980.”
The people had spoken; of 82,342 votes cast, 57 percent of Alaskans wanted the capital moved. But the devil was in the details.
A follow-up 1976 public initiative “Capital Site Selection” resulted in the selection of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough community of Willow as the chosen location of the new capital. Of 105,558 votes split three ways for choosing where the people of Alaska wanted the capital moved to, 56,219 (53%) wanted it on the road system in Willow.¹
Many Alaskans had faith that their elected officials would do what they were directed to do—move the capital to Willow.
Like Juneau, Willow is a community built after miners discovered gold in the area in 1897. This area of Alaska has a long history as a rugged rural community. Supplies from Knik were initially transported over a 26-mile summer trail along Willow Creek, which became Hatcher Pass Road. In 1920, the Alaska Railroad built its Willow station house at mile 185.7 along the tracks leading from Seward to Fairbanks. By 1954, Willow Creek was Alaska’s largest gold mining district, with a total production approaching 18 million dollars.²
In 1970 Willow had a population of 78.³ Land disposals, homestead subdivisions, and completion of the George Parks Highway in 1972 fueled growth in the area. The capital move initiative expanded Willow’s population and caused land speculation, but funding for moving the capital was ultimately defeated in the November 1982 election.
That is why the capital never relocated; Southeast Alaska interests rallied and some lost faith.
Today, Willow is a thriving community of a lot of regular Alaskans.⁴ Many know they were once set up by the whims of a public initiative, but have faith in our state government anyway. Annual distribution of the Permanent Fund Dividend reinforces that faith.
I know this because on November 17, in a Willow Thanksgiving tradition, I met many residents as I passed out turkeys at the Willow Methodist Church, to anyone who could prove they live in Willow.
A family takes home a Thanksgiving meal in Willow, Alaska
The Willow distribution was orderly, and organizers told me they passed out some 172 frozen turkeys with bags of potatoes and apples, cans of vegetables, biscuits, and other fixings. Families arrived in the kinds of automobiles you would expect to be driven at a place where a lot of Alaskans live off the grid. All of the cars were dirty, all of the people were happy and thankful.
In the 2010 census, Willow had a population of 2,102, which is an increase of 352 people over the 2000 census.
It is now the official host of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race restart. Many dog mushers live in the area. The estimated median household income in 2016 was $50,617, and median resident age is 40.9. Among households in Willow, 90.3% are all white.
Willow would be a very different place today if the 1974 Ballot initiative were honored. Instead, the November 1978 election initiative called for ”Full Bondable Costs of Relocating Capital.” It too passed, requiring every penny imaginable relating to the cost of moving the capital to be identified, including “social, economic and environmental impact to the present and relocation sites.” The margin between pro and con on this initiative was 14,161 votes of 124,667 cast.
A second bonding proposition presented to the voters in 1978 estimated cost to move the capital at $966,000,000. Of course, the voters didn’t give a blank check of that amount to the politicians, and that initiative lost 88,782 to 31,491.
How could they have imagined our Permanent Fund would in 2018 be in excess of $66 billion–more than 66 times the estimated cost in 1978?
Back then only 35% of the voters had faith that the price was worth it.
In November of 1982, Alaska voters were again asked, in Ballot Proposition #8, whether the cost, revenue, and population estimates set out by planners (estimated to total 2,843,147,000) could be spent to accomplish relocation of a functional state capital from Juneau to the new capital site at Willow. Again, it went down 102,083 to 91,049. The price had increased by more than double, at a time when Alaska oil revenues from North Slope production were at their highest, but the margin of defeat was narrow.
For perspective, Juneau had a population of 6,050 in 1970, and by 1980 it had grown to 19,528. In 1990 the population of Juneau reached 26,752, and by 2000 it had 30,704 residents. In 2010 the population of Juneau reached 31,275.⁵ Estimated median income of Juneau households today is $87,436—17% higher than the Alaska average.⁶
Willow, this past Thanksgiving, would have been a much different place had that vote to not invest in moving the Alaska capital nearly 40 years ago were different. Alaska would be different, too.
Living in a part of the world where earthquakes
are a frequent occurrence requires an understanding of what causes them and how
to deal with what results when the earth starts shaking violently.
My Library on November 30, 2018
been learned about earthquakes since Alaska’s Big One, and some of us have
faith in our survival when they occur.
Check out most recent Alaska Earthquakes here: https://earthquake.alaska.edu/earthquakes/recent_list
aftershocks from a major earthquake can be particularly unnerving. The Big One
was my first major earthquake–the most massive earthquake in North American
history– on March 27, 1964, at 5:36 p.m. local time. The magnitude was 9.2,
with the epicenter in the Prince William Sound region of the new state. This
was the second largest earthquake ever recorded, next to the M9.5 earthquake in
Chile in 1960.¹
I doubt I
could tell the difference between a 9.2 and a 9.5 earthquake; after all these
years only I know that it the Big One lasted longer than our recent 7.0 shaker,
but I don’t think that the jerking was more intense.
background: My father had come to Alaska from New Mexico to work as a civilian
contractor on the White Alice System. In the 1964 quake, my two siblings,
stepmother, and I were residing in a second story two-bedroom, in our Martin
Arms apartment, located on a bluff which later would be mined for aggregate at
3rd Avenue and Unga Street. The solid ground under those 26 old, wooden
buildings in this military-style barracks complex, assured they were
well-shaken, and the brick chimneys of the various laundry facilities
collapsed, but no sliding occurred and nobody there was hurt.
4th Avenue where I sold newspapers.
Big One struck, my father was many bush-plane-accessible-only miles away from
Anchorage, playing chess with another fellow on a Good Friday evening away from
their families. Pieces on the checkerboard were rattled slightly, but soon
every person at that site was extremely alarmed. A ham radio operator, who
apparently was broadcasting from the Turnagain Heights neighborhood, reported
that Anchorage had been leveled and few survivors were expected to be found.
This upper-class neighborhood overlooking Turnagain Arm was devastated as the
glacier silt base near the water’s edge lost form and slid, causing one square
kilometer to sink with 75 homes.² Today that area includes an informative
walking trail at Earthquake Park.
military outpost, with both Fort Richardson Army Post, and Elmendorf Airforce
Base, Anchorage was immediately placed under martial law and residents were
urged to shelter in place. Soldiers blocked off the downtown area, and no
Additionally, nobody could have known how this
event would change the way science and technology encounter the challenge of
future earthquakes and tsunamis. Mankind has learned a lot from that
to the U.S. Geological Survey: At that time, scientists did not yet know precisely
how or why the earthquake occurred.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists were immediately sent to Alaska to
figure it out. What they found marked a turning point in earthquake research.
This event helped confirm the theory of plate tectonics and provided firsthand
insight on earthquake processes, tsunami generation, and the impacts of these
phenomena on communities, both locally and across the Pacific.³
earthquake validated a primary tenet of plate motion, according to researchers
Michael E. West, Peter J. Haeussler, Natalia A. Ruppert, and Jeffrey T.
Freymueller, of the Alaska Seismic Hazards Safety Commission. This elevated
plate tectonics theory into textbook fact, and through additional research with
advanced instruments, allowed an unprecedented view into the mechanics of giant
the 1964 Alaska earthquake also served as a wake-up call regarding local
A large rock on the road near my home November 30, 2018.
it was believed that tsunamis mostly transited from the earthquake to other locations,
as did the Alaska Quake, killing people in California. We now understand that
fjord landscapes and their huge sediment loads are breeding grounds for
submarine landslides. Even modest ground motions can trigger landslides with
catastrophic tsunami consequences. Recognition of different local sources of
tsunami generation makes the 1964 earthquake a watershed moment in revelations
about coastal hazards.
to the researchers above: “Almost everywhere, the greatest damages were
sustained, not from the direct ground shaking, but from soil failure, tsunamis,
landslides, and even avalanches. Alaska’s infrastructure in 1964 was, by
happenstance, relatively resilient. Wood‐frame construction, low‐rise
structures, and modest urban density limited fatalities from the quake itself.”
created new realities of Alaska living. The 7.0 earthquake of November 30 could
be considered by some as just a late-breaking aftershock. Over 54 years those
of us who have lived here continuously have grown accustomed to earthquakes. We
call them tremors. They serve as a reminder that the earth can become animated
still avoid staying very long in tall buildings.