Jeannette James: Address to Ottawa Conference

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you this morning to your very important conference. The title of your conference introduces a very important story. So, good morning to: “Ottawa EIR Conference on the World Land-Bridge for Economic Revival.”

A rail connecting the continents is not a new idea, but is one that is long overdue. With a special opportunity of the Bering Strait–56 miles wide, 173 meters deep at the deepest place, and two islands in the middle for staging–this is a no-brainer. Also important is the fact that the area, which at one time in history was a land-bridge, is solid granite and not on a fault line.

I grew up by a railroad track, and have always been a fan of railroads. Railroads are the most environmentally friendly way to move people and freight over the surface of the Earth. And, as well, trains are economically superior to other methods.

My active participation in this economical vision began when I entered the Alaska Legislature in 1992. During Alaska’s 18th Legislature, I was instrumental in passing two related pieces of legislation:

First, there was already an established rail corridor from the Canadian border to Fairbanks, but it needed a breath of life. My legislation was simple: It required the Department of Transportation to determine the approximate value of private property within that corridor, for planning purposes, and authorized $10,000. The purpose was to keep this idea alive. However, it seemed to provide a reverse message to our next governor. Gov. Tony Knowles, elected in 1994, served until December 2002. After the money was spent, and a determination made, he canceled the permits with the Bureau of Land Management that had been there for years, believing that this rail corridor would never be built.

The second piece of legislation authorized a 500-foot-wide transportation and utility corridor from Fairbanks to the Seward Peninsula, which was not subject to Title 38 requirements. Title 38 requires specific processes that are overwhelming and time-consuming, which could result in the inability to complete such a project. This legislation was 1994 Session Law, and will remain on the books for 50 years from the date of passage. Thirteen years of those 50 years have now passed.

The renewing of Alaska’s interest in this rail project soon traveled around the world. The Russians had already expressed their interest. I received communications from the U.K., China, and Australia. Our Arctic University in Fairbanks communicates with other nations, and has been very instrumental in attracting support. Since that time, a number of conferences have been held.

During the Gov. Frank Murkowski administration in Alaska, from 2002 to 2006, we partnered with Canada through Yukon and British Columbia to do a feasibility study. I served as Railroad Advisor to Governor Murkowski during that time. Headed by Governor Murkowski, a group of us visited Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa: We were looking for Federal Canadian support. I had met the prime minister when he was on the campaign trail in Yukon. We visited then, and I made my thoughts clear to him. There were smiles on his face, when he recognized my attendance, and he commented on my insistent attitude related to the rail issue. He seemed supportive. We were successful getting a commitment for that Canadian Federal input for our upcoming study.

This study resulted from Federal legislation, sponsored by then-U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, and identified as “Rail to Resources.” Federal funds were authorized. Yukon and Alaska added money to those funds, and that study is now complete.

The often-heard statement that “it takes a village to raise a child” is a good vision of what it will take to complete this project. I believe we must have enthusiasm, money, education, and desire from the world community for this to be completed. During the construction, and after completion, the World Land-Bridge and the economic revival will be recognized, experienced, and appreciated by the entire Earth’s population. I will continue to support, and look forward to legislation passing our U.S. Congress making this vision a reality.

Again, congratulations! You are off to a good start. I wish for your ultimate success, and I wish I could be there with you.