END OF AN ERA: SOUTHEAST ALASKA BRACES FOR LIFE AFTER THE PULP MILLS
By KATHIE DURBIN
Sometimes an era ends abruptly: With the drafting of a letter, the rap of a gavel.
So it was in early October, when the U.S. Senate adjourned without giving Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska what he had fought long and hard to win - a 15-year · extension of the 50-year contract between the U.S. Forest Service and Ketchikan Pulp Co. The Contract, which supplies the aging pulp mill at the southern tip of Southeast Alaska's coastal rainforest with heavily subsidized timber, was scheduled to expire in 2004.
Days later, Louisiana-Pacific Co., Ketchikan Pulp's Portland-based parent company, announced that it would close the mill next March, thereby breaking the 50-year contract with the Forest Service, throwing 500 people out of work, and ending decades of rapacious timber cutting on the Tongass National Forest.
The Clinton administration, which recognized the fate of the Tongass as a national issue, stood firm to the end, threatening to veto any bill that contained a contract extension. The administration also refused to delay completion of a new logging plan for the Tongass despite intense pressure from Alaska's congressional delegation.
The mill may close, but pollution in nearby Ward Cove will linger. Ketchikan Pulp's abysmal environmental record (at least 445 violations of state and federal pollution-control laws); its labor practices (a history of wage concession demands); and the wasteful logging practices encouraged by its longterm contract finally proved to be the company's political undoing.