Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alaskans Split as Hickel Returns Once and Present Governor Won the Populist Vote, but He Has Environmentalists Worried. WALLY'S WORLD

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alaskans Split as Hickel Returns Once and Present Governor Won the Populist Vote, but He Has Environmentalists Worried. WALLY'S WORLD

Article excerpt

AFTER 21 years and a last-minute blitzkrieg campaign, Walter Hickel is back in the governor's mansion.

And back in Alaska, he says, is the pioneering spirit that carved out the first homesteads on the Last Frontier and drove the first bulldozers over the tundra to oil-rich Prudhoe Bay.

"I said many times in the past few years it's lost its spirit," says Mr. Hickel (nicknamed Wally), who ran on a third-party ticket and won the job with under 39 percent of the vote. "Part of that spirit thing that I saw eroding came back this last election."

Not everyone has caught the spirit. Skeptics are sponsoring a "Welcome to Wallyworld-Back to the Future Ball," to compete with the formal inaugural event here next month.

The once-and-present governor and former US interior secretary is an unabashed development booster. A multimillionaire who built a real-estate empire out of the 37 cents he brought to Alaska 50 years ago, Hickel has an unshaken faith in man's power over nature.

Alaska, he says, has not only the right but the duty to develop its natural resources. Alaska is an "owner-state" unique in the American system, he contends. State-owned resources are the developable assets, he says, and the 560,000 residents are the stockholders.

His wish list includes a natural-gas pipeline running from the North Slope to Valdez; an extension of the Alaska Railroad over the permafrost to the roadless Yukon River; massive pipelines shipping fresh Alaskan water to parched southern California; a huge Anchorage deep-water port; and oil rigs on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain.

Hickel, who in 1967 lobbied the Atomic Energy Commission to test nuclear weapons in arctic Alaska, declared earlier this month that the state needs "a thousand and one projects" to improve life here.

Thanks to the Persian Gulf crisis, the Alaska government has the dollars to fuel some of Hickel's dreams. The state gets 85 percent of its budget from oil revenues; skyrocketing oil prices promise to pour an extra $500 million to $2.8 billion into state coffers, Alaska revenue officials say.

That's what worries critics, who say Hickel's pet projects are boondoggles of dubious economic merit that would spark another violent boom-bust cycle. …

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