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The Planet

The Planet
September 1998 Volume 5, Number 7


But He's a Hero to Cyclists

Dear Editor:

The "Sneak Attack" article in the July/August issue was an excellent discussion of a major problem. Identifying perpetrators of these sneaky deals may be an eye-opener for some voters, me among them. One big surprise is that Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was included, indeed highlighted, in this rogues' gallery.

Oberstar is something of a hero to cyclists. Most of us regard him as the standard- bearer in efforts to maintain funding for alternative forms of transportation in the 1998 transportation bill which will replace the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA).

I really would like to know why Oberstar would fight to provide road space for people unarmored by a couple of tons of steel and yet open the Boundary Waters Wilderness to truck traffic.

- Phillip N. Davis
Austin, Texas

Boundary Waters Boo-Boo

Dear Editor: The article "Sneak Attack" was itself a sneak attack on responsible journalism. Two factual errors deserve correction.

The statement, "[The bill] would allow trucks to haul boats across three portages in wilderness areas" should read, "The bill would reopen two of the three previous truck portages used to haul boats between lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area." The two reopened portages are about a quarter of a mile. The third will be permanently closed. In exchange for reopening two truck portages, two previously motorized lakes within the wilderness became "paddle only."

The second correction concerns the caption beneath the picture of the portage truck which states, "Motorized vehicles have not been allowed in the BWCAW since it was designated wilderness in 1964." In fact, the truck portages were in operation until just a few years ago when they were closed in a legal battle.

- Stephen B. Erickson
Rochester, Minn.

Carl Zichella, Midwest field director, replies:

Phillip Davis highlights one of the paradoxes of politics: Your enemy on one issue may be your friend on another. Rep. Oberstar has had a distinguished career as a pollution fighter and a friend of bike trails. But he has been a hard-core opponent of national-forest and wilderness protections, and he led the recent fight to weaken protections for both Voyageurs National Park and the BWCAW. In 1978, he fought tooth and nail to open the BWCAW to logging and mining and prevent its designation as a true wilderness.

Stephen Erickson notes two errors in the article "Sneak Attack." He is almost correct. Only two of the three portages were reopened by the rider. This was thanks to a last-minute compromise struck by wilderness ally Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), which also resulted in the permanent closure of two smaller lakes, Canoe and Alder, to motors. But Oberstar's original rider would have allowed trucks on all three portages and vacated other pro-wilderness compromises of the 1978 BWCAW Act. The short portage length he mentions indicates how absolutely unnecessary trucks are to moving boats. Indeed, at one of the portages, at Trout Lake, a concessionaire went out of business because so few people needed assistance moving. Why pay when it is so easy to move your boat yourself?

The caption to the photo was flat wrong. The portages, though mandated to have been closed by 1984 under the terms of the 1978 BWCAW Act, remained open until 1993, when the U.S. Supreme Court forced the Forest Service to abide by the law and close it.
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