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Know Alaska: Prince William Sound, Valdez-Cordova Census Area, including Glennallen.

Because of the proximity of their locations and the parallelism of their roles as Prince William Sound commercial centers, there is a tendency to think of Valdez and Cordova as two halves of a whole -- sister cities that, although their hair color may be different, share the same family resemblance. Those who live in Valdez and Cordova say such comparisons are valid to a point but that the two communities actually have strikingly different personalities.

"We're really not sister cities anymore," says Jayne Sontag, executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development Council. Sontag was born and reared in Valdez. "We have really different types of people in Valdez and Cordova."

The basic difference, says Walt Wrede, planning director for Cordova, involves two natural resources vital to the economic health of the region: fish and oil. "There's always been friction between the oilmen and the fishermen," says Wrede, who has lived in Cordova two years. "It's changing a little bit but the rivalry is still there, and it mainly has to do with fishing versus oil."

Cordova's economy has long been dependent on fishing, and members of the community have felt for several years that the transportation of oil could pose a grave danger to the fishing industry. In the mid-1970s, Cordova fishermen went to court to try and halt construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, arguing that no environmental impact studies had been done addressing the effects of a possible oil spill in Prince William Sound.

When the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil into the sound in 1989, residents throughout the area were affected, but the spill tore especially at Cordova's community fabric. Fishermen became divided among those who would and those who would not accept payment from the oil industry for their help in cleaning up the oil.

Fishing became a particularly important industry after the Kennecott copper mines closed in 1938, bringing to a screeching halt the transportation of ore into Cordova, where it had then been loaded onto ships. Commercial fishing crews, processing plants and other services catering to the needs of fishermen have, over the years, provided the bulk of Cordova's jobs.

In Valdez, the primary employers are Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., a firm owned and operated by oil companies to manage the Prudhoe Bay-to-Valdez pipeline, and other services associated with the oil industry. Valdez has a hefty tax base that has allowed for things most small towns could never afford, including a civic center. "We're one of the richest little towns and that brings animosity," says one longtime resident.

Sontag says both communities now are identifying shared goals and are working through her organization to foster change. Projects include finding new markets for area salmon, improving ferry schedules, drawing visitors to the area and dealing with the region's waste. "The rapport has been really excellent," says Sontag of the feeling among her board of directors. "We're stronger together. We should combine our resources and our knowledge."


Prince William Sound has a rich and varied history. Archaeological studies suggest that Chugach Eskimos and neighboring groups lived in the area during the early Holocene period (10,000 years ago to present). Europeans began exploring the sound in the 1700s, and Captain James Cook charted Prince William Sound in 1778.

Spaniards are credited with discovering and naming both Cordova and Valdez, where by 1897 Klondike prospectors had built a tent city that would later become the city of Valdez. Valdez went on to become an important transportation, fishing and mining center. In 1977, with development of North Slope oilfields, the city became home to the terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The original town was devastated by the 1964 earthquake, forcing residents to rebuild the city four miles away on more stable ground.

Cordova, Prince William Sound's other main community, also was an important transportation center. Early this century, Cordova served as the railroad terminus and ocean shipping port for copper ore from the Kennecott mine near McCarthy: 112 miles northeast of Cordova. When the mine closed in 1938, fishing became Cordova's main economic base.

Smaller sound communities include Chenega Bay (also rebuilt after the 1964 earthquake), Tatitlek and Whittier (named for poet John Greenleaf Whittier), which was created by the U.S. government during World War II as a port and petroleum delivery center.

Prince William Sound gained international attention following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The spill blackened some shorelines and killed thousands of birds, fish and marine mammals. Later the region was the site of major cleanup efforts.

Also included in the Valdez-Cordova census area are communities that are farther inland, including Glennallen, Copper Center, Kenney Lake and a handful of smaller settlements, most with populations well under 100. Glennallen, named for two early explorers, is considered the gateway to the Wrangell Mountains.

Copper Center's history is closely tied to that of the gold rush. Miners who crossed the dangerous Valdez Glacier often found shelter here until spring weather allowed them to continue.


The body of water known as Prince William Sound includes 15,000 square miles and lies at the northern reaches of the Gulf of Alaska. Its jagged boundaries are marked by straits, passages, coves and fjords. The Chugach Mountains rise to the east and north, the Kenai Mountains to the west. A string of mountain islands separates the sound from the larger gulf.

This coastal wilderness is home to sea otters, sea lions, whales, harbor seals, Dall sheep, bear and birds. Its waters carry five types of Pacific salmon, halibut, rockfish and crab.

The sound also is home to major icefields and to the greatest concentration of tidewater glaciers anywhere in Alaska. Columbia Glacier outside Valdez draws thousands of visitors each year. Fjords with active glaciers are found on the west and northwest sides of Prince William Sound, with Harriman Fjord containing more than 12 glaciers.

Much of the land surrounding the sound was altered by the 1964 earthquake, which forced residents of Valdez and Chenega Bay to move their town sites. Cordova's land mass rose as much as seven feet.

In contrast, Glennallen, inland to the north, sits on a flat plain surrounded by the Wrangell and Chugach mountains. The surrounding region of peaks, lakes and open vistas provides spectacular views and excellent hunting and fishing. The Copper River is the area's major waterway.


The region encompassed by the Valdez-Cordova census area lies primarily in the maritime weather zone, where temperatures are comparatively mild and precipitation -- mostly rain -- is heavy. The greatest annual average precipitation measured 332.29 inches at MacLeod Harbor on Montague Island in 1976. The site also holds the record for the most precipitation received in a month (70.99 inches in November 1976).

It's not just rainfall that sets records for Prince William Sound. Thompson Pass outside Valdez holds the record for receiving the most snowfall in a season (974.5 inches in 1952- 53), the most snowfall in a 24-hour period (62 inches in December 1955) and the most snow in a single month (297.9 inches in February 1953).

Conditions in Cordova include:

* Average summer temperature range is 44 degrees to 61 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 21 degrees to 39 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -23 degrees and 81 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 168 inches (116 inches of snow).

Conditions in Valdez include:

* Average summer temperature range is 42 degrees to 60 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 11 degrees to 43 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -28 degrees and 87 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 62 inches (244 inches of snow).

Conditions in Whittier include:

* Average summer temperature range is 45 degrees to 63 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 20 degrees to 33 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -29 degrees and 88 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 175 inches (264 inches snow).

Conditions in Copper Center include:

* Average summer temperature range is 39 degrees to 69 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is -22 degrees to 27 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -74 degrees and 96 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 10 inches (39 inches of snow).


State employment data for this region group Cordova, Valdez, Whittier, Glennallen, Copper Center and Kenney Lake with several smaller communities. In 1990, the region's annual average labor force contained 4,773 workers with 532 (11.1 percent) counted as unemployed. (Seasonal jobs result in larger labor forces during some months. Unemployment also may vary depending on the community and the time of year.)

Government, manufacturing, transportation (including oil operations), fishing and service industries provide the bulk of the employment. Although opposed by most local residents, logging is emerging as a new industry in Cordova.

Cordova, Valdez and Glennallen are working to develop a stronger tourist industry. If the state administration is successful in building the proposed Copper River Highway and a deepwater port to accommodate tour boats, Cordova, in particular, could see a large increase in tourism.

The non-profit Prince William Sound Economic Development Council also is working to promote projects to benefit the region, including the improved marketing of salmon, increased ferry service and the recycling of trash and hazardous wastes. In the Glennallen/Copper River area, the Copper Valley Economic Development Council is hoping to help that area become a destination for visitors, rather than just an area to pass through en route to Valdez or Fairbanks. The council also wants to improve the quality of life for local residents by supporting existing businesses, creating employment and encouraging people to start new businesses in the area.


Cordova and Valdez serve as centers of commerce for residents living around Prince William Sound, with the possible exception of those in Whittier who are closer to Anchorage. Glennallen serves in a similar capacity for people living in the Copper River basin.

Cordova and Valdez, and to a lesser degree Glennallen, offer a wide variety of goods and services, including education and health care facilities, retail outlets, service centers, charter services, lodging, restaurants and more. In addition to local government offices, several state and federal agencies have offices in the three communities. The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration have a large presence in Cordova, as do social service groups, research institutes and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

Valdez marks the end of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and is the site of Alyeska's terminal, thereby making it the state's primary oil shipping center. In addition to offering the normal range of goods and services, Valdez is a main transportation hub (it's home to regional state highway offices and maintenance shops) and is the site of the state center for developmentally disabled residents.


Although both Cordova and Valdez serve as centers of commerce for Prince William Sound, Valdez's 1990 population is nearly double that of Cordova. Both communities are made up largely of Caucasians -- eight African-Americans were counted as living in Cordova, 38 in Valdez. People of Native, Asian and Hispanic origins also reside in both communities, but their numbers are relatively small when compared with the total population.

1990 census figures put Whittier's population at 243. The Aleut villages of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay had 1990 populations of 119 and 94, respectively.

Area Natives are represented by the regional corporations Chugach Alaska Corp. (Cordova and Valdez areas) and Ahtna Inc. (Glennallen). Native village corporations include the Eyak Corp. (Cordova), Valdez Native Association, Tatitlek Corp. and the Chenega Corp.

The following 1990 census figures give a snapshot of the region's demographics:


* Population: 2,110 (1980: 1,879)

* Median age: 32 years

* Percent of population under age 18: 27 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 11.2 percent of the population.


* Population: 4,068 (1980: 3,079)

* Median age: 31 years

* Percent of population under age 18: 28.7 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 5.9 percent of the population


* Population: 451 (1980: 511)

* Median age: 32

* Percent of population under age 18: 31 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 6.7 percent of the population.

According to 1990 figures, the median value of a home in the Valdez-Cordova census areas is $97,100. Separately available figures for Valdez only identify the median value of a home in that community as $109,000. A 1989 figure tallies per capita income for residents of the Valdez-Cordova census area at $27,727.


As would be expected, the lifestyles of Prince William Sound residents are influenced by their locations. Cordova has long been a fishing community that provides goods and services needed by commercial fishermen. Valdez and Whittier, to a much lesser degree, also are homes to fishing fleets.

Villagers in Chenega Bay and Tatitlek fish, in addition to practicing other subsistence activities.

Residents of Cordova like to think of themselves as environmentally minded, politically astute and involved. After hectic summers fishing, Cordova takes a long breather come winter. Subsistence activities and recreation are important.

Because of its location, opportunities for subsistence activities, particularly hunting, are not as great in Valdez. Because of the great amount of snowfall each year, winter activities such as skiing and ice climbing are popular. Physically, the town is more spread out than Cordova, and because of the tax base generated by the oil industry, Valdez is able to offer services and facilities not found in most towns its size. Year-round employment is more stable and when it's time to play, those in Valdez tend to have more expensive toys, including sport and pleasure boats.

Whittier is home to several older retirees and seasonal workers. Employment is minimal and pastimes include community activities, such as serving as volunteer police, fire or emergency medical personnel.

Hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing are popular pastimes for those in more inland communities, as is dog mushing. Life's pace is a bit slower and many depend on subsistence activities to put food on the table.


A glance at a map may give you the impression that Cordova is an isolated, hard-to-reach community. Residents claim otherwise, pointing to daily jet

service between Cordova and Anchorage and to the Alaska Marine Highway, which provides year-round ferry service. Some state officials, including Gov. Walter Hickel, are committed to building a road that would connect Cordova with the rest of Alaska, a project that has stirred much debate.

Cordova has two, state-owned airports, air-taxi operators and a large, small-boat harbor. It has an AM radio station and receives radio and television transmissions from Anchorage. The weekly Cordova Times newspaper also is available.

Valdez hugs the coast at the end of the Richardson Highway. It also is served by daily jet service from Anchorage, though travelers frequently are fogged in and unable to fly. The Alaska Marine Highway provides year-round ferry service, and air-taxi operators also serve Valdez. The town has a large boat harbor. In addition to receiving newspapers and radio and television transmissions from Anchorage, Valdez also has two radio stations and two weekly newspapers, The Valdez Vanguard and Valdez Pioneer.

The sound's smaller communities are served by air-taxi companies or by small boat and receive radio and television signals from Anchorage. Whittier residents rely on the ferry to connect them to other sound communities and on the Alaska Railroad to provide scheduled runs to the Seward Highway. Some residents support construction of a toll road to connect them with the state road system.

Glennallen and Copper Center both are situated along Alaska's road system -- Glennallen on the Glenn Highway just west of its junction with the Richardson Highway and Copper Center on the Richardson Highway. Both serve as transportation hubs for outlying communities. Both have air-strips but no scheduled jet service. The semi-monthly newspaper The Copper Valley Country Journal newspaper is located in Glennallen, as is a local radio station.


Communities in the Valdez-Cordova census area have a lot to offer visitors, especially those interested in outdoor activities such as hiking, rafting and kayaking.

Cordova, on the southeast shore of Prince William Sound at the entrance of the Copper River Valley, is surrounded by the Chugach National Forest and by the waters of the sound. It is a staging area for wilderness adventures, and several guides and outfitters are based in Cordova. Attractions include hiking trails around Sheridan Glacier and McKinley and Crater lakes, skiing at Eyak Mountain, and glacier viewing out of town at the Childs and Miles glaciers.

In town, there are a museum, an Olympic-sized indoor pool, lodging, restaurants and shops. A silver salmon derby is held in August and September and the Iceworm Festival in February. Local officials are looking at ways to promote earth-friendly tourism, while some residents are eager to take things a step further by providing more accommodations for motor homes and campers.

Valdez also is a staging area for raft and kayak trips. Ice climbing is popular along the waterfalls outside town. A winter carnival is held in March. Flightseeing and charter boat trips also are available, with the Columbia Glacier a popular destination for those on day-long boat trips. (The glacier covers 440 square miles, is 40 miles long and 6 miles across at its terminus. It was named for Columbia University in New York by the Harriman Expedition of 1899.) Visitors can tour the Alyeska terminal and participate in a silver salmon derby and Gold Rush Days held in August.

Virtually all of the land bordering Prince William Sound lies within the 5.8 million-acre Chugach National Forest, where the forest service maintains 22 cabins. The sound also contains seven marine parks.

Glennallen residents would like to develop an ecotourism industry, attracting environmentally-minded visitors. Wildlife viewing is good, and area lodges offer hunting and fishing trips. In the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve lies the wee settlement of Kennecott. Kennecott Glacier Lodge is nestled among the deteriorating buildings that remain from the days when the town was an important producer of copper ore.


Following is a list of communities within the Valdez-Cordova census area, the type of government established in each and taxes levied. Statistics are given for those communities with 150 or more residents.

* Copper Center: Unincorporated

* Cordova: Home-rule city; manager and mayor-council government; 7.094 mil property tax; 4 percent sales tax

* Eyak: Unincorporated

* Glennallen: Unincorporated

* Kenney Lake: Unincorporated

* Valdez: Home-rule city; manager and mayor-council government; 16.247 mil property tax; 6 percent bed tax

* Whittier: Second-class city; manager and mayor-council government; 5 mil property tax; 3 percent sales tax



Although lands surrounding Prince William Sound lie in the sprawling Chugach National Forest, land ownership varies within specific communities.

Near Cordova the Native regional corporation, Chugach Alaska, and the local village corporation, Eyak, own a great deal of land, followed by the U.S. Forest Service, the state and the city of Cordova. Because of its location between mountains and water, there is little unclaimed land left in Cordova.

Primary land owners in Valdez include the state, city, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and the Port Valdez Co., a private firm owning land in core parts of town. There is land available within the city limits for all types of development.

The Alaska Railroad Corp. and the state own much of the land in Whittier, with a smaller portion held by the city and private land owners.

In the Copper River Basin, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve includes some 13 million acres, with other major land owners including the state and federal governments and Ahtna Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
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Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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