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Expand the existing gas system: Group of 'Fairbanks addicts' believes private company has key expertise

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Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:33 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Community perspective

“Hello, my name is Don” All together now: “Hello Don.” 

“I have a confession to make; I am a member of the Lowell Group.

All together again: “Oooooo.”

How did this happen to me? In 2006, while walking down the streets of Fairbanks on a sunny summer day, I heard a man’s voice say “Hey my friend, come here because I have a deal for you.” That man was John Phillips, another registered civil engineer (that should have been a warning) who was the Fairbanks city engineer for an amazing amount of time after I left that nerve-frazzling job back in 1976. 

And what deal did he offer me? He offered to me the opportunity to join the Lowell Group. It was then called the “Rail Safety and Development Group,” chaired by Don Lowell. “Why should I join this group?” I asked. He said that the Alaska Railroad had imminent plans to increase rail speeds and traffic through Fairbanks to, purportedly, improve the efficiency of their rail operations. I could see that if the proposal went forward there would be the terrible effects on our community. I confess that I was hooked, and immediately become a member of the Rail Safety and Development Group, faithfully attending their weekly meetings in the basement of their “secretive” location at 1431 Gillam Avenue, one block south of Airport Way and across from Mary Siah swimming pool. I still do.

What did this group do back in those days? The group worked overtly and covertly in that basement for more than two years to derail an insane $140 million federally funded railroad bridge and rail realignment project that would have greatly increased hazardous and noisy rail traffic operations through our town and destroyed the Fort Wainwright golf course. With our aid, Sen. Ted Stevens redirected $40 million dollars in defense appropriations from that project to what is now Tanana River bridge project — a redirection of monies that the railroad had stated was not possible.

With that success, the group continued to meet in the basement. Our new goal was to encourage the Alaska Railroad to move all of its operations out of the center of town, which was and is a mandate to all of the national railroads by the Federal Railroad Administration. Well, that four-year effort was strongly fought and, as a failure, became a real downer for us.

Then we tried to help the community develop a beautiful riverfront park, as has been done in many other progressive cities in the country. This also became another frustrating failure and downer. We were being continuously stymied in all of our efforts. In desperation, we even tried to recruit unwary new members for support, announcing that all of our meetings were and had always been open to the public and that all of our records were available for review.

 Then we had the greatest of ideas: Let’s work to get cheaper energy to Fairbanks and the Interior communities. How could anyone be against that? So we lent our support to the Alaska Gasline Port Authority’s idea to truck natural gas off the North Slope. (Another confession, it was our idea.) Clandestine but obvious opposing forces arrested all of our progress, and the project died.

Most others would have given up, but we didn’t. It seems we are totally addicted to this Fairbanks community. So here it is, three years later, the end of 2012, and again we are attempting to reduce our energy costs by getting natural gas trucked from the North Slope to Fairbanks.

Through many months of volunteer work, we have developed a plan in writing that will bring gas to Fairbanks in two years. This plan is available on the web at

Now yet another confession; it does include a close relationship with Fairbanks Natural Gas. Why? It is the only local company with expertise in the natural gas business.

And yes, with its participation in the plan, we of the Lowell Group are going to gain financially. Yes we will, and so will you to the same extent, by not having to pay outrageous heating oil bills and by getting cheaper energy produced by GVEA.

That is the Lowell Group’s only connection with Fairbanks Natural Gas. So those are my confessions, and I am addicted to Fairbanks. 

Group all now say: “Ooooooo.”

Please support the volunteer Lowell Group; join us and we will get natural gas to Fairbanks in two years. Questions? Contact us at the website or call 388-1658. 

Don Callahan, a lifelong Alaskan, has been a registered civil engineer, land surveyor, building inspector, firefighter, paramedic, realtor and naval officer in Vietnam.

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