by Rhonda McBride
6:27 PM AKDT, August 28, 2011
The Southwest Alaska community of Bethel is mourning the loss of a longtime landmark this weekend.
Bethel’s last White Alice tower was knocked down on Friday, despite protests from pilots and snow machiners, who called it an important navigational aid.
The 60-foot high tropospheric tower was one of Bethel’s last remnants of a communications system, built by the U.S. Air Force during the height of the cold war with the Soviet Union -- to warn of incoming enemy aircraft.
It wasn’t long afterwards that satellite communications made it obsolete. But the giant White Alice tower assumed a new role, almost like a light house on the tundra, guiding travelers to safe harbor in Bethel during blizzards and foggy weather.
But in May, the Air Force told the Bethel City Council that the tower had become a liability, because it was filled with asbestos -- and as it aged, so did the risk of fibers escaping into the air. There was also evidence that kids were climbing the tower.
Tommie Baker, a spokesman for the Air Force, says a well-publicized meeting was held in June to give the community of Bethel an opportunity to suggest ways to save the tower, but only one person attended and that person supported removing it.
Baker posted video of the tower coming down on YouTube -- and also suggests that people look at another video on YouTube, posted by someone who caputured the footage while on top of the tower. Baker says this video shows the hazards of leaving the tower up.
When the remaining White Alice towerwas knocked down on Friday, Joe Joe Prince of Bethel was there to photograph it and shared his pictures with KTUU.
“I used to use it for a reference for ptarmigan hunting,” says Prince, who also used power lines to Napakiak and Oscarville. “In case I got lost, this way I can follow either line home or keep an eye out for White Alice.”
Others like Michael Lefner, whose family owns a car rental business in Bethel, have a sentimental attachment to the tower.
“My dad worked at the site from about 1968 to 1971, and that is what brought us to Bethel,” said Lefner. “It should have been kept as a local historical site. I will miss it so much, just knowing it isn’t there anymore.”
Link to video of tower being torn down on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=-1DnzMFjITY
Link to video of young people on top of the Bethel tower, posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=NfKqn82FwPw
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