Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Crazy Scouts

You may have heard about the four - four! - Alaska Boy Scout leaders were killed putting up a tent pole under a powerline at the National Jamboree.

As this article makes clear, the craziness didn't end there.

First, Bush tried to visit the Scouts - grieving for their lost Alaska fellow scouts - but he cancelled for weather.
Something like 300 scouts promptly got sick from the heat.
Bush Visit Take 2 was then postponed for crowd control reasons.
"Succeeding on his third try to visit them," as the News puts it, the Scoutmaster in Chief got to see the Scouts... and a blackhawk carrying a bunch of photographers almost crashed on them all.
It wasn't in Alaska - but I'd like to think we set off the avalanche.

Bush makes it to Boy Scout Jamboree (08/01/2005)
After Alaska leaders' deaths, president offers praise, speaks of military
By DEB RIECHMANNThe Associated Press
Published: August 1, 2005 Last Modified: August 3, 2005 at 12:36 PM
BOWLING GREEN, Va. -- Succeeding on his third try to visit them, President Bush comforted thousands of Boy Scouts on Sunday at a national jamboree marred by the electrocutions of four leaders and stifling heat that sickened 300.
"The men you lost were models of good citizenship," Bush told the estimated 50,000 Scouts, leaders and visitors attending the event near Bowling Green, Va., where boys yelled "Boy Scouts rock!"
"As Scout leaders, they devoted themselves to helping young men develop the character and skills they need to realize their dreams. These men will always be remembered for their leadership and kindness, and you Scouts honor them by living up to the ideals of the Scouting they served."
The four Scout leaders were electrocuted when they were putting up a tent and the metal pole came in contact with overhead electrical wires. Those killed were Ron Bitzer, Michael LaCroix and Michael Shibe of Anchorage and Scott Powell, who moved to Ohio from Alaska last year.
Shibe was at Jamboree with his twin sons, while LaCroix was there with one of his four children.
A fifth Alaska Scout leader, Anchorage dentist Jay "Larry" Call, suffered electrical burns in the accident.
"Through the generations, Scouts have made America a stronger and better nation," Bush proclaimed. "Thousands of Scouts have shown the highest form of patriotism by going on to wear the uniform of the United States."
Marine One landed in a grassy field, and Bush, a former Cub Scout in Texas, was ferried by van to a stage where he was met by a sea of cheering Scouts wearing uniforms covered with colorful patches and badges.
As the sun set, Bush told the crowd that the first man he often sees every morning, chief of staff Andy Card, is a former Scout from Massachusetts; Vice President Dick Cheney was a Boy Scout in Wyoming; and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was an Eagle Scout in Illinois.
Bush's speech was about patriotism and community and military service, but he also recalled how his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, was the den mother of his Scouting pack.
"It's about the time her hair turned white," he joked.
Before Bush arrived on stage, an Army band performed and a man wearing an Army T-shirt led groups of Scouts in chants of "OO-rah" and "U.S.A." Tall pines provided a backdrop for blue, red and black hot-air balloons emblazoned with military and Scouting emblems.
It was Bush's third attempt to travel to Fort A.P. Hill, the Army base hosting the Jamboree where Scouts are trying to end their 10-day gathering with cheery memories of mountain biking, fishing, scuba diving and trading patches with newfound Scouting friends across the nation.
On Wednesday, Scouting enthusiasts waited hours in the heat for Bush, who later canceled his appearance because of threatening storms. Scouts began collapsing from high humidity and temperatures in the high 90s. More than 300 people were treated for heat-related illnesses.
Bush's second attempt to visit the Jamboree was postponed from Thursday at the Scouts' request. Officials wanted to review safety procedures for large crowds and replenish water and other supplies.
The illnesses came as the Jamboree participants were still trying to overcome the deaths Monday of the four adult Scout leaders. An investigation into the accident is under way.
The day before, a volunteer was taken to a hospital, where he died of an apparent heart attack.
"I appreciate the rain check," Bush said.
The weather was considerably cooler Sunday, but Scout officials took extra precautions. Scouts hiking to the arena from the most distant subcamp about seven miles away set out at 3:45 -- more than an hour later than on Wednesday -- to give them less waiting time in the sun.
Several running buses with signs on the windshields reading "Cooling Station" were available, there were more tents to provide shade and stretchers were spaced out over the field in case they were needed.
Cases of bottled water dotted the sloping lawn of the arena like hay bales.
Even so, the day was not without incident.
A military helicopter carrying several photographers made an emergency landing at the Jamboree after its engine failed Sunday afternoon, Jamboree spokeswoman Renee Fairrer said.
She said the Black Hawk helicopter was carrying adult photographers for the Boy Scouts. She was unable to say how many people were on the helicopter, which she said landed at its designated spot on base.
The Daily News and the New York Times contributed to this report.

The NY Times goes crazy

No less than the NY Times ran this marvelous column on Alaska transportation bill atrocities. Since it won't be free within a week, here it is:

Alaska's Road to Nowhere
Haines, Alaska
YOU have probably already heard about the pile of cash going to Alaska from the federal transportation bill. There's about a quarter of a billion dollars for a bridge to connect the airport on Gravina Island to Ketchikan (population 14,000). The bridge will rival the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges in length and height.
Then there's $230 million or so for "Don Young's Way," a bridge between Anchorage and a swampy, undeveloped port, which is named for the man who got us the money, Alaska's lone congressman.
But it's the $15 million designated for a road between Juneau and Skagway that is dearest to me. Haines, the small town I live in, is close to Skagway - separated from it only by the waters of the upper Lynn Canal, which is not a canal at all, but the longest fjord in North America. The transportation money will go toward the first road ever to be built along the canal. Actually, the project will cost about $300 million to complete, but Gov. Frank Murkowski assures Alaskans that he'll get whatever he needs from the federal government.
The communities directly affected - Haines (population 2,400), Skagway (population 870) and Juneau (population 31,000) - have voiced opposition to the road for a host of good reasons: it is a waste of money; with at least two dozen avalanche chutes, it will be too dangerous to drive in winter, which is most of the year; we already have a fine ferry system that gets us just about everywhere we need to go in all kinds of weather; some places are too nice to be paved over.
Oh, and did I mention that the road won't fulfill its ostensible mission? The whole purpose of the new road was to connect Juneau to the Klondike Highway at Skagway, so that Alaskans who live in the interior would be able to drive to the state capital rather than rely on planes and ferries. But now the road is going to stop in the middle of the wilderness, 18 miles south of Skagway. Earlier this month, the Federal Highway Administration announced it would not finance a road that went through Skagway's Gold Rush-era park, a national landmark. The result? We're on course to get a $300 million road to nowhere.
The highway's designers promise to fix the problem by building a new ferry terminal at the end of the proposed road and purchasing new boats to haul people and cars from there to the ferry docks in Haines and Skagway, frequently in the summer, less so in the winter.
But this will make regional travel even harder. Right now, I can get on a ferry in Haines and take it all the way to Juneau. I can also stay on and go to Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Prince Rupert, British Columbia or even Bellingham, Wash. With the new plan, Haines and Skagway residents (or my son's high-school basketball team) will take the ferry across Lynn Canal for about an hour, get off, and then have to drive about 75 miles to Juneau, which has no roads out of it.
The plan makes no sense. Instead, Alaska's politicians should do something they don't do very often: they should put the money for the road in the bank. The interest alone could go toward operating and maintaining the current Lynn Canal ferry system. A few rules would probably need to change, but I'm confident Alaska's politicians have enough clout when it comes to dealing with federal transportation money to bring this about.
John Muir warned young people not to travel up the Inside Passage of Alaska. After you see it, he pointed out, you'll either have to stay, or every place else will be a disappointment. Nothing much has changed since he died. The Lynn Canal still looks like Yosemite by the sea. If the road ever gets built, I'll call it Disappointment Highway.