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Alaska timeline: a hike through history.

With only 50 years of statehood under its belt, there are certainly states outside of Alaska that have longer historical timelines mapping out important developmental events. Still, any historian would be hard-pressed to find a historical accounting that is as dramatic and unpredictable as the chronology of events that continues to form and define the largest and most multifaceted state in the union. From the early 18th century when Captain James Cook set out to search for the Northwest Passage, to the purchase of Alaska for two cents an acre, to the Klondike Gold Rush that was the first economic boom for the state, and the wild ride that lead up to the passage of statehood, Alaska has always had a knack for grabbing top billing. And the 50 years since the passage of statehood have been no exception. Since Jan. 3, 1959, when President Eisenhower signed the official declaration that made Alaska the 49th state in the union, its story has been a page turner, each chapter adding one more layer of rich history to Alaska's half century.


The Great Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964, killed 131 people, the result of ground fissures, collapsing building and tidal waves that devastated communities throughout the Southcentral region. Highways and railroads were inoperable, the port facilities unusable, and water and sewerage systems out of operation. Besides being the most powerful earthquake recorded in U.S. and North American history--the five-minute disaster registered 8.4 on the Richter scale--more than 10,000 aftershocks were recorded after the main shock. In the first day alone, 11 major aftershocks were recorded with a magnitude greater than 6.0 and it was not until 18 months later that the delayed tremors ended.


While it represented a turning point for Alaska history--economically, the earthquake and the major tsunami it generated are still regarded as one of the best things to ever happen to the state. Millions of dollars were spent reconstructing Anchorage, the hardest hit city, along with communities statewide. At the time, Alaska was a new state having just been granted statehood five years before in 1959. The country was in the midst of the Cold War and involvement in the Vietnam War was escalating, making Alaska strategically even more important. Evacuating the state and shutting down the economy was not an option, as the federal government was concerned with the impact of the event on the social and economic system. The feds made it clear that restoration had to be completed as fast as possible, especially considering the short construction period before the onset of the harsh Alaska winter.


President Lyndon B. Johnson convened his cabinet in a disaster policy role into the Federal Reconstruction and Development Commission for Alaska with the objective of restoring what had been destroyed and to use the disaster as a means to promote future development. Nine task forces were immediately established to deal with different aspects of the reconstruction. They operated so effectively that reconstruction was all but completed and major public facilities were back in operation before the construction season ended, setting peacetime records.

It would not be the last time that Alaska learned that disasters produce positive economic benefits after the initial economic hit. Despite time pressures, facility standards were upgraded and mitigation was given far more attention than in any previous disaster reconstruction. During the recovery period, new local skills were developed to manage agency involvement and new technology, such as communitywide generator systems installed in villages. Valdez was relocated to a nearby site at a cost of almost $38 million, the port at Seward was rebuilt, and urban renewal projects were brought to downtown Kodiak and Seldovia. The village of Afognak was moved to a new community, Port Lions. Survivors from Chenega were relocated to Tatitlek. Most of the residents of Kaguyak relocated at Akhiok and the village of Old Harbor was rebuilt at the same site, a few feet above hightide level. As noted by economists, the earthquake that caused $300 million to $500 million in property damage brought in federal funds shortly after statehood in 1959, a time when Alaska was beginning to break away from total federal control.

The Alaska Railroad lost its port facility at Whittier, its docks at Seward, and numerous bridges on the Kenai Peninsula. Reconstruction of the railroad facilities was completed in 2 1/2 years at a cost of $22 million.


The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on Dec.18, 1971, transferring ownership of 44 million acres of land to newly established Native corporations, making it the largest land claims settlement in United States history. Intended to resolve the long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, and to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska, the settlement extinguished Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 local village corporations. A thirteenth regional corporation was later created for Alaska Natives who no longer resided in Alaska.





Although skeptics predicted the act was doomed to fail, today Alaska leaders and economists predict that these assetdriven Native corporations will be the largest industry in the state's history. Currently, their business interests total more than $5 billion from major land holdings and diverse business investments, including some of the largest natural resource developments in the world, placing Alaska Natives in a position of political and economic power unrivaled by Native Americans in most other states.


In 1976, as the Alaska pipeline construction neared completion and Alaska's oil fields were proving to be the largest in North America, Alaska voters decided that a portion of this wealth should be saved for the future when the oil runs out. Voters approved a constitutional amendment proposed by Gov. Jay Hammond mandating that at least 25 percent of all mineral lease rentals, royalties, royalty sale proceeds, federal mineral revenue-sharing payments and bonuses received by Alaska would be placed in a permanent fund. It would be distributed to all eligible Alaskans--every man, woman and child--in the form of an annual dividend payment. The Alaska Permanent Fund, or the "PFD," is invested in the capital markets, diversified among various asset classes that generates income from these investments. An indirect benefit of the pipeline, the annual Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check continues to be one of the most popular benefits of Alaska's oil windfall and the pipeline.

By the end of 1982, when State revenues had quadrupled in three years from $1 billion to $4 billion, Alaskans received their first dividend of $1,000 as part of a "fair and equal share" of the wealth from publicly owned resources. Since then, $9.7 billion in mineral revenues have been deposited into the Permanent Fund with checks ranging between $1,200 and $2,000. For many Alaskans, and especially those in Bush communities, the dividend adds more than 10 percent to their family income and sends an annual ripple through the state's economy.


On March 27, 1975, construction on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline began and the first oil flowed on June 20, 1977. Since the first barrel of oil entered the pipeline more than 30 years ago, it has carried almost 16 billion barrels of Prudhoe Bay crude oil to Valdez, the northernmost ice-free port in the Western Hemisphere. And it has produced revenue of $90 billion that accounts for 20 percent of the country's annual oil production.

It is owned by BP Pipelines (Alaska), ConocoPhillips Transportation Alaska, ExxonMobil Pipeline Co., Koch Alaska Pipeline Co. and Unocal Pipeline Co. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. (APSC), a separate corporation and joint venture of three original owner companies, was appointed as the contractor and agent for the construction project and today operates the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system (TAPS).

The structure--regarded as one of the most amazing American engineering feats in history--cost $8 billion to build and spans 34 major rivers (and 500 others), crosses three mountain ranges, includes 579 elevated and buried animal crossings, functions in an air temperature range from minus 80 to minus 95, and is designed to withstand a maximum 8.5 Richter Scale earthquake. The pipeline has defined Alaska and made the state what it is today. Without it, the population would likely not be more than about 50,000 people and Anchorage would be more like a small frontier community, says Stephen Haycox, history professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"The discovery of Prudhoe Bay and construction of the pipeline is the largest thing in Alaska history since the Klondike Gold Rush and maybe even bigger than statehood," Haycox says.

Transformational statistics illustrate the change resulting from the pipeline carrying oil to market: Alaska's work force today is three times as large as it was in 1977 when the first barrel of oil entered the pipeline. Payroll going to workers climbed from $3.5 billion to $13 billion and the gross state product grew from $8 billion to $39 billion. In 1977, Alaskans generated $5 billion in personal income and today they generate five times that figure. In 1977, 412,000 Alaskans lived in the state compared with today's population of 670,000, an increase equivalent to adding Anchorage's current-day population to the state.

Looking back on the pipeline's first 30 years, with more than 19,000 tankers having set sail to deliver crude to markets all over the world, APSC President CEO Kevin Hostler looks ahead 50 years to when the pipeline can celebrate its 80th birthday.


In 1980, after years of congressional debate, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) into law. Regarded as the most significant land conservation measure in the history of the nation, the statute protected more than 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska, doubling the size of the country's national park and refuge system and tripling the amount of land designated as wilderness. ANILCA expanded the national park system in Alaska by 43 million acres, creating 10 new national parks and increasing the acreage of three existing units.

From the time it was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977 until it was enacted in 1980, ANILCA legislation was considered in more than a dozen versions. The final act is a carefully crafted compromise reflecting a struggle for balance between development and conservation of public lands in Alaska. Today, almost 30 years later, battles are still being waged in Congress and courts over the interpretation of key provisions in ANILCA--including defining the meaning of the act's access and use provisions.


On March 23, 1989, after safely guiding the oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, through the Valdez Narrows on its way to Washington state, the harbor pilot left the ship, returning control to Capt. Joseph Hazelwood. After maneuvering out of the shipping lane to avoid icebergs, Hazelwood left the wheelhouse and returned to his stateroom, leaving his third mate and able seaman at the helm. About an hour later, at 12:04 a.m., the 987-foot ship ran aground on Bligh Reef and out of a gash in the hull gushed 53 million gallons of North Slope crude into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. Throughout the region, beaches were awash in oil, resulting in one of the worst environmental accidents in U.S. history, spoiling 1,200 miles of Alaska coastline, killing hundreds of thousands of salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. At the same time, it damaged the livelihoods of more than 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Alaska Natives and other Alaskans. They went on to sue Exxon for $5 billion--a settlement that the courts last year ruled was excessive, dropping the amount to $507.5 million, meaning many of the plaintiffs will get back only 10 percent of what they lost.


Accused of being drunk at the time of the accident--Hazelwood said he had "two or three vodkas" about eight hours before the accident--at the trial he was cleared of this charge and convicted only of negligently discharging oil, fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service.

Because Prince William Sound's coast has rocky coves where the oil collected, during cleanup efforts the decision was made to displace it with high-pressure hot water. This also displaced and destroyed microbial populations on the shoreline--the basis of the coastal marine food chain--and other bacteria and fungi capable of facilitating the biodegradation of oil. Despite extensive cleanup attempts, a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determined that as of 2007 more than 26,000 gallons of oil remained in the sandy soil of the contaminated shoreline, declining at a rate of less than 4 percent a year.


"May all the roads which you have built, Ted, rise up to meet you." With these words, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), delivered a farewell speech to his Congressional colleague, Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest continuously serving Republican in the Senate. Stevens prepared to yield the floor for the last time, ending a 40-year political career that undeniably changed Alaska forever and left his fingerprints on virtually every significant social, economic and political development in the state.

First appointed on Dec. 24, 1968, as a Republican to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of E.L. Bartlett, Stevens--known, among other things, as the "Senator for Life"--is credited with growing Alaska from a pre-statehood territory to one of the most promising states in the union. While his detractors accused him of being tyrannical and a bully, to most Alaskans he will go down in history as dear Uncle Ted.

In July, formally charged with violating the Ethics in Government Act, Stevens was found guilty by a federal grand jury on seven counts of failing to report gifts received from VECO Corp. and its CEO Bill Allen on his Senate financial disclosure forms. Within a week of his conviction, Stevens ran for re-election and lost to Democrat Mark Begich, making him the first U.S. senator from Alaska to be defeated in a general election.

Even with the guilty verdict, the election was close as Alaskans used their vote to once again thank him for his unwavering fight to bring home pork barrel projects. From 2004 to 2008, Taxpayers for Common Sense reported that Stevens had a hand in 891 Alaska-oriented earmarks worth $3.2 billion, or $4,800 per Alaskan, 18 times the national average. These earmarks represent a fraction of federal spending in Alaska, which totaled $9 billion in 2006 alone. As a result of Stevens' efforts, Alaska also ranked first in federal spending per capita in 18 of the 25 years from 1981 through 2005, according to The Tax Foundation, which educates taxpayers about tax policies. In 2005, Alaskans received $1.84 for every dollar they sent to Washington in taxes. Stevens, who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for 12 years and until his indictment, was the senior Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and played such a critical role in this northward redistribution of income that today federal spending in Alaska is known as "Stevens money"

"When I think of the good things--the positive things--that have come to Alaska in the past 50 years, I see the face--I see the hands--of Ted Stevens in so many of them," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a November Senate floor speech in recognition of his 40 years of service to Alaska.
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Comment:Alaska timeline: a hike through history.(50TH STATEHOOD ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL SECTION)
Author:Bohi, Heidi
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Chronology
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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