Scott Benowitz pens an Open Letter to Our Next Administration.
“It is time to extend planning to a wider field, in this instance comprehending in one great project many states directly concerned with the basin of one of our greatest rivers. [We need to] return to the spirit and vision of the pioneer. If we are successful here, we can march on, step by step, in the like development of other great national territorial units within our borders.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in an address to Congress proposing the Tennessee Valley Authority, April 10th, 1933
Bridges To Somewhere- A Forgotten Frontier
While it was rare that I found myself siding with both the Bush (Jr.) administration as well as the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, 10 years ago, I was actually impressed with the proposed Gravina Island Bridge, and I was disappointed when Congress cancelled the funding for it.
It was not a “bridge to nowhere,” as the media called it throughout 2005 and 2006, it was a proposed bridge that would have connected Ketchikan to Gravina Island (that’s why it was called the “Gravina Island Bridge” and not the “Nowhere Bridge.”
It was not about spending close to 400 million dollars to construct a bridge to an island in which only 50 people live. It was about replacing the existing passenger ferry to open up easier access to a region which has a fishing industry, oil, gold, silver, minerals, wildlife refuges and is becoming a tourist destination for people from all over the world.
The ferry services were still intended to continue between Gravina Island to some of the other islands within the Alexander Archipelago. It also wasn’t about spending nearly 400 million dollars to construct a bridge in Clarence Strait, with an intended projected $0.00 long term return. It was about the companies which build the pier pilings, the companies which build and maintain the equipment needed to construct such a bridge, the subcontractors who pave roads, paint the lanes, the road signs, the lighting, and the workers who work for those companies. Such projects are intended to alleviate unemployment. The people who earn money constructing bridges then save some of that money, they spend some of it, they pay income taxes (Alaska has no state income tax, but the workers would still be paying Federal taxes), and therefore, such projects revitalize the economy.
Which is why I’m actually suggesting that more bridges to coastal islands would actually be worth considering.
We have 14 states which border the Atlantic Ocean, 4 which border the Pacific Ocean, one whose borders include the Bering Sea and the Beaufort Sea, 5 which border the Gulf Of Mexico, 8 whose borders include the Great Lakes, Hawaii is entirely a series of island, and we also have our Caribbean and Pacific Island colonies. The coastal regions of the U.S. actually includes more than 10,000 islands and atolls- some of which are quite small in size, others of which are larger. I’m not proposing that we build bridges to all of them, the planet earth probably does not actually contain enough resources and raw materials for that to even be possible.
Many of these are already set aside as wildlife refuges, but they are not accessible. Our Federal government can work very closely with environmental groups to ensure that habitats and species are preserved, while concurrently setting aside a very small handful of coastal islands for use either as prisons, or military bases, and possibly allowing for very limited residential, commercial and retail, development on a small handful of them, and then opening up the rest for tourism.
Our national parks, national forests, state parks, state forests and wildlife refuges attract tourists from all over the world. The administrators within our national parks service and our state parks agencies fully comprehend that it is possible to construct hiking trails, footpaths, horse trails, bicycle trails, visitor centers, museums, parking lots, cafeterias and lodges within the national parks without destroying the very ecosystems that those parks were created to preserve.
There is absolutely no reason that in the 21st century, we can’t do the same thing on some of the many thousands of islands along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Gulf Coast, the Great lakes or the Bering Sea. And if we do opt to open some of these island up for tourism, building a bridge to some of them, which would include roads and parking lots does not destroy sensitive ecosystems and endangered species. Unlimited, unregulated and unrestrained development would destroy fragile ecosystems, which is not what I’m proposing here- precisely the opposite.
I’m proposing building roads and bridges to many of our coastal islands which are already set aside as wildlife refuges, following the model that has been working well in our national parks, national forests, national seashores, national lakeshores, national wildlife refuges, our state parks and our state forests for more than 100 years now- so that tourists from all over the world would be able to travel to these islands, view scenery, without damaging the habitat at all.
If One (1) Life Is Saved Or One (1) Serious Injury Is Prevented, This Seems Notably Worthwhile Too
Another easy domestic infrastructure improvement would be to install lights along most of our interstate highways and state highways, including the entrance/ exit ramps and the undersides of bridges. During the daytime, this will make absolutely no difference to anybody whatsoever. During the night time, this will make an enormous amount of difference, and during the night time in rain, snow, ice and fog conditions, drivers will appreciate this even more so. We are not a society which operates from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, we never were. We are living in a world in which more and more businesses are open 24 hours, and many businesses which are not open 24 hours are sending and receiving deliveries during the night shifts. There are more automobiles, buses and trucks traveling on American highways than ever before, and the numbers of people who travel on our roads each year is expected to continue to grow every year throughout the duration of the 21st century. Why not make every possible effort to make our roads as safe as possible? And once again, this is an investment which will provide a return. Installing streetlights along tens of thousands of miles of highways would cost many hundreds of millions of dollars, this is very true.
The companies which manufacture street lights for highways, and the construction crews who install them will be earning money- some of which they’ll save, some of which they’ll pay taxes on, and some of which they’ll spend- thus revitalizing the economy. Hopefully, this will result in fewer caskets and coffins being purchases, fewer funeral expenses and fewer medical bills for serious accidents- which is an investment which I think we can all appreciate. And this too can be easily accomplished with technologies which are as old as our interstate system itself.
Wind, Wave and Tidal Turbines
Did I really just propose a domestic infrastructure improvement which would involve using so much electricity? Indeed, I did. Meeting our electricity needs for the 21st century is actually impressively easily solvable too, and again this can be accomplished using technologies that have been well understood for more than 100 years now.
It’s a very simple concept. Oceans, seas, and lakes have daily tides. Rivers flow. Installing wave and tidal turbines is only a very slight modification of the same designs that have been used in hydro-electric dams at both natural and man-made waterfalls since the 1880’s.
Wave and tidal turbines are even more environmentally friendly than hydro-electric plants which are constructed at manmade dams, because although hydroelectric dam projects don’t produce toxic chemicals the way that coal or nuclear power plants do, the process of diverting a river or damming a river will obviously reduce the supply of river water which nourishes the species of plants and animals which live downstream from that river.