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Earl Finkler
Earl Finkler

Earl Finkler was interviewed on December 8, 2006 by William Schneider and Marie Mitchell at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Earl discusses his involvement with the North Slope Borough as a Planning Consultant, Planning Director and Deputy Planning Director, his views about proposed policies for the maintenance and management of the Haul Road; and his impression of the landscape and culture in the North Slope Borough, in particular the preservation and management of the natural and cultural resources.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-09

Project: Dalton Highway
Date of Interview: Dec 8, 2006
Narrator(s): Earl Finkler
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Marie Mitchell
Videographer: Marie Mitchell
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background

2) Working for the State of Alaska Housing Authority, and meeting Eben Hopson

3) Formation of the North Slope Borough

4) Being offered the Planning Director job in Barrow

5) Reviewing impact of the Haul Road to the North Slope Borough if opened to the public

6) The North Slope Borough's planning responsibilities

7) The need for rural infrastructure, and the logistics of shipping in supplies

8) Basing formation of the North Slope Borough on revenue from oil development

9) Purpose of the Haul Road, and lack of knowledge about the existence and authority of the North Slope Borough

10) Rules for industrial roads, and limiting commercialization

11) Miscommunication during construction of a road maintenance camp, and private versus public road access

12) Establishing nodes for basic services to control access and impacts

13) Lack of understanding among workers about the North Slope Borough, and description of facilities at Prudhoe Bay

14) Debate over public access along the Haul Road

15) Power of the North Slope Borough, and establishing a zoning ordinance to control uses on the Haul Road

16) The North Slope Borough's use of documentation to establish credibility

17) Maintenance and use of the Haul Road, and state allocation of money

18) Off-road vehicle corridor along the Haul Road, and importance of protecting historic, wildlife, environmental, and cultural treasures

19) Roads for resource development versus protecting cultural, scenic, and environmental values

20) Memories of seeing a wolf along the Haul Road

21) Impacts of the Haul Road

22) Retirement, working at the radio station, and interviewing people along the Haul Road

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Section 1: childhood\ Milwaukee, Wisconsin\ parents\ Finkler, Leo\ Finkler, Helen\ education\ college\ University of Marquette\ degree -- journalism\ University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee\ master's degree -- urban affairs\ childhood\ influences\ uncle -- encouragement\ education -- importance of\ family -- poor\ high school -- newspaper\ job -- Des Moines Register\ government -- functioning of\ Toronto, Canada\ job -- public affairs and city planning\ combination -- journalism and planning|

Section 2: Finkler moved to Anchorage, Alaska, to work for the State Housing Authority assisting rural communities with HUD 701 plans (comprehensive plans for community development). The first community he was involved with was Barrow. There he met Eben Hopson. After the discovery of oil in the North Slope, Mayor Eben Hopson wanted the North Slope Borough (NSB) to be formed. Hopson understood that Barrow needed a government due to oil development. The NSB was eventually formed in 1972.
Anchorage -- relocation to\ employment -- State of Alaska House Authority\ responsibilities\ Barrow -- contract with\ Hopson, Eben -- Mayor\ meeting with\ oil -- discovery\ impact\ Barrow -- government\ government -- formation of\ reasons|

Section 3: Forming the North Slope Borough was a slow process, especially in rural areas. City of Barrow had an annual budget of $50,000. Finkler recommended the HUD 701 plan and suggested employing a city manager. There were no roads into Barrow, so the State of Alaska opposed the idea. Hopson demonstrated the cultural ties with nearby communities. The NSB could help unify the communities, and be a local entity to balance subsistence with industrialization. The oil companies sued NSB, and the court upheld the case. The court saw NSB as a positive force for community and cultural planning.
North Slope Borough (NSB) -- formation\ Barrow -- budget\ HUD 701 plan -- recommendation\ city manager -- recruitment\ Barrow -- roads\ State of Alaska -- critical\ unsupportive\ Hopson -- cultural ties\ communities\ NSB -- reasons for\ oil companies -- opposition\ lawsuit\ court -- upheld case\ NSB -- positive\ community planning|

Section 4: After working for the American Planning Association in Chicago, in 1974 Finkler relocated to Tucson, Arizona to work as a City Planner. Hopson contacted Finkler to offer him the Planning Director position for the North Slope Borough. Finkler's family was not ready to move to Barrow, so he did not take the job.
American Planning Association -- employment with\ Chicago\ Tucson, Arizona -- relocation\ employment\ City Planner -- positions\ North Slope Borough -- formation of\ year\ Hopson, Eben -- Mayor\ contact\ City Planning Director -- job offer\ Barrow\ Finkler, Earl -- immediate family\ family -- apprehensive\ job -- declined|

Section 5: Finkler wanted to be involved with community planning for Barrow, so he worked on contract for Eben Hopson and Herb Bartel, Planning Department Director. Finkler's first assignment was to review the Haul Road issue. Hopson knew that the road could be opened to the public, and could have an impact on the land, people, culture, and resources, and could have community development pressure on the city (for facilities, schools). Hopson tried to get basic amenities to the communities while dealing with the Haul Road. The Haul Road was the first road that connects Alaska to the NSB. Hopson and Bartel knew about the potential effects of the road, which at the time was designated as an industrial road, not a public road. Finkler was hired to make recommendations based on the impact of the Haul Road if it were to go public.
Bartel, Herb\ community planning -- Barrow\ contractor -- position\ City Planning Director\ task -- Haul Road issue\ Haul Road -- public access\ public access -- concerns with\ impacts -- type of\ Hopson, Eben -- concerns with\ Haul Road -- type of\ amenities -- lack of\ Haul Road -- unique\ connects Alaska to NSB\ Haul Road -- industrial road\ purpose of\ Finkler, Earl -- assistance\ policy -- development of|

Section 6: The NSB is eighty-eight thousand square miles. The Borough is responsible for community development and planning for the eight villages on the North Slope.
NSB -- size of\ Hopson, Eben -- Mayor\ community development -- initiation\ NSB --size of\ community development -- responsible for\ villages -- involved with|

Section 7: Rural communities needed the infrastructure of utilities, transportation, airstrips, electrical systems, water, roads, and sub-divisions.The Borough also had to figure out the logistics of shipping in supplies, which at the time were flown in via large Hercules turbo-prop airplanes (Hercs), and Alaska Native land entitlements.
communities -- rural\ infrastructure -- needs of\ utilities\ transportation\ airstrips\ electrical systems\ water\ roads\ sub-divisions\ supplies -- challenges with\ shipping\ shipping -- transportation\ transportation -- types of\ Alaska Native -- land entitlements|

Section 8: The state's impression of the NSB was a series of isolated village, which is a justification for the formation of the NSB. Creating a borough for a rural village based on oil development revenues was a new concept.
property tax\ NSB -- reaction to\ State of Alaska -- not supportive\ NSB -- justification of\ creation of\ purpose -- oil development\ communities -- NSB|

Section 9: There was not much information about the Haul Road when it was being constructed. The Haul Road was an industrial road facilitating construction of the pipeline. It had no public services or amenities, only ATCO buildings for road and construction crew. When Borough officials first visited Prudhoe Bay, relatively few people knew that the NSB existed, let alone that Prudhoe was in the Borough.
Haul Road -- information\ information -- limited\ Haul Road -- industrial\ pipeline -- construction of\ public services -- not available\ amenities -- not available\ campsites -- construction\ ATCO buildings -- purpose of\ Prudhoe Bay -- visit to\ perception -- NSB|

Section 10: According to North Slope Borough plans, if an industrial road is developed, the recommendation is to limit commercialization along the road. Instead, build clusters of areas designated for commercialization (known as nodes). Nodes would provide an area for waste units, emergency services and other services.
Haul Road -- opinion of\ commercialization -- proposal\ development -- limit\ nodes -- alternative\ purpose\ benefits\ services -- waste\ emergency\ fuel|

Section 11: Finkler tells of a story of the Department of Transportation (DOT) wanting to build a road maintenance camp in order to service the road. The NSB planning commission got involved with the planning of the site. The idea was to have the DOT camp near a pipeline Pump Station pad. NSB supported the concept. Instead, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), without any correspondence with NSB, awarded a permit to DOT to construct a camp six miles away from the Pump Station pad. Alyeska did not want any other entity near the pad. Finkler feels if an industrial road is also a public-access road, then the access needs to be controlled using nodes for basic services.
Department of Transportation (DOT) -- story\ camp -- maintenance campsite\ purpose of\ NSB -- planning commission\ involvement\ campsite -- location\ proposal -- solution\ concerns with\ NSB -- campsite\ supportive\ Bureau of Land Management (BLM) -- conflict with\ campsite -- permits\ construction -- approval of\ NSB -- not informed\ Alyeska -- feedback\ Haul Road -- industrial road\ public -- access\ nodes -- necessity\ services|

Section 12: Nodes are to minimize the use of gravel needed to build sites along the Haul Road. Nodes have a minimum impact on the natural resources in the arctic region, while providing public services. Nodes have been placed along the Haul Road, and often do not have a visual impact to the Arctic.
nodes -- purpose of\ location -- Haul Road\ nodes -- solution\ impact -- minimal\ natural resources -- arctic region\ nodes -- placement of\ visual -- limited impact|

Section 13: acknowledgement\ workers\ briefings -- lack of\ going to town\ Fairbanks\ Barrow\ understanding -- lack of\ mindset\ oil -- development\ facilities -- industrial\ buildings -- ATCO units\ food -- quality of\ trucks|

Section 14: The State wanted public access along the Haul Road. NSB expressed concerns, and rural legislators also expressed opposition. When Governor Walter Hickel directed the entire route of the Haul Road to be publicly opened, the NSB sued this order, but their suit was not successful.
Alaska -- public officials\ Haul Road -- public access\ NSB -- Haul Road\ concerns with\ Hickel, Walter -- Governor\ public access -- proponents\ NSB -- lawsuit|

Section 15: A legal consultant to the North Slope Borough wrote a legal analysis about the Haul Road noting that the NSB had more power over the area than the state was allowing. NSB was successful in passing a zoning ordinance that supports the node concept.
ANILCA -- inclusion\ Bagney, Conrad\ North Slope Borough Attorney -- involvement\ legal analysis\ description\ NSB -- authority\ policy -- involvement\ zoning ordinance -- passage of\ node -- concept\ support|

Section 16: The NSB was very good at documenting issues, reports, resolutions, studies, and public documents that helped the Borough establish credibility and be recognized.
NSB -- documentation\ documentation -- types of\ issues\ reports\ resolutions\ studies\ public documents\ documentation -- credibility\ credibility -- establishment\ NSB|

Section 17: If the road is public, then the State needs to allocate money for services (maintenance, enforcement, and amenities). Senator Ralph Seekins wanted to open the Haul Road for off-road vehicles, but had a zero fiscal impact note with his bill (which means no money allocated for services). There is only one Alaska State Trooper at Coldfoot (over 200 miles to manage). Finkler wonders how laws or emergency calls can be taken care of by one person. In 1998, when he was a Deputy Director for NSB Planning Department, the Borough did a study of the improvements needed for the Haul Road. Not many of those recommendations have been initiated.
State of Alaska -- responsibilities\ services -- funding\ allocation\ types of\ Seekins, Senator Ralph -- senate bill\ senate bill -- description of\ off-road vehicles\ Haul Road -- access for\ off-road vehicles\ senate bill -- problems with\ Deputy Director -- position\ NSB -- employed by\ Haul Road -- improvements\ improvements -- study of\ recommendations -- not initiated|

Section 18: There are claims that the NSB is over-emphasizing their concerns along the Dalton Highway. The current concern for NSB is the Ralph Seekins bill to lift the ban of off-road vehicles with a zero fiscal cost. Yet, the State needs money to provide emergency services, enforcement, and environmental impact studies for this bill. Finkler notes it has taken 30 years to take care of the basic issues of providing services and enforcement. The northern arctic region is a historic, wildlife and cultural treasure. The Haul Road is not just an industrial road anymore.
claims -- exaggerated\ NSB -- emphasizing\ Dalton Highway -- concerns\ Seekins, Senator Ralph -- bill\ bill -- description\ off-road vehicles -- proponent\ State -- responsibilities\ emergency services\ enforcement\ environmental impact studies\ Haul Road -- services\ state of\ services -- timeline\ arctic region -- historic\ wildlife\ cultural\ Haul Road industrial\ evolution of\ public|

Section 19: The State has a concept for having resource roads, and these roads have been a success for accessing natural resources. The Haul Road is in an area of cultural value. Alyeska picked the route as the Haul Road, which may have been a trading route. Yet, the area has a wide range of geograpic zones - tundra, glaciers, mountains, foothills, coastal area, endangered species, and other wildlife.
State of Alaska -- natural resources\ roads\ roads -- access\ Haul Road -- purpose of\ natural resources -- access to\ cultural value\ Alyeska -- route\ Haul Road\ arctic region -- geological zones\ geological zones -- description of\ tundra\ glaciers\ mountains\ foothills\ coastal area\ endangered species\ wildlife|

Section 20: film -- 1980\ Haul Road -- driving\ Paneak, Roosevelt\ Galbraith Lake\ tundra\ sunset\ wolf -- golden\ wolf -- interaction with\ memories\ Nageak, Ben\ Shackel, Tom\ Suvlu, Lester|

Section 21: NSB has had universal views of the Haul Road, with concerns about having no regulations, the road being public, and protection of resources. Finkler understands that the road is an industrial road that brings supplies to Prudhoe Bay. Yet, it is hard for people to imagine the magnitude of the construction of an industrial haul road in an area that was once remote.
NSB -- viewpoint\ Haul Road\ concerns -- explanation of\ concerns -- regulations\ Haul Road -- public access\ resources -- protection of\ Haul Road -- industrial road\ supplies -- delivery of\ Prudhoe Bay\ oil fields -- construction\ construction -- magnitude of\ impacts\ services -- limited\ truck stop -- location\ Coldfoot Truck Stop|

Section 22: Finkler has retired from the North Slope Borough. He hosts a morning show for Barrow's radio station, KBRW. Finkler has done interviews with people working or traveling along the Haul Road. He is also a freelance writer for various news and planning magazines.
retirement\ KBRW radio -- show host\ writer -- freelance\ location -- Barrow\ interviews -- people\ travelers\ KBRW -- oral recordings|