Pipeline at 40: Construction pioneers share stories of pride

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - This week, Channel 2 News and KTUU.com will highlight the 40th anniversary of the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline, which winds across 800 miles from one end of the state to the other, reached a milestone in its history this summer, with its 40th anniversary.

- March 27th: First pipe laid at the Tonsina River.
- October 26th: The project was 50 percent complete.

- May 31st: Final weld near Pump Station 3, north of the Brooks Range.
- June 20th: First oil flows from Pump Station 1.
- July 28th: Oil reaches the Valdez Terminal.
- August 1st: First tanker departs.

“There are few things in Alaska's history that equals the impact of the magnitude of the pipeline,” said Dr. Stephen Haycox, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. “The money that it brought in was unimaginable.”

Before construction began, the pipeline project was challenged in court, in April of 1970, by environmental groups who demanded changes in the design. Forty years later, many of those who went to court to block the pipeline praises its safety record.

“I think it's done amazing well,” said Peg Tileston, co-found of Trustees of Alaska, one of the organizations that challenged the pipeline in court. “There have been problems - obviously there always are in this type of thing - but considering the magnitude of the project and the rocky start that it got originally, I think it has done very well.”

The original construction estimate for the Trans Alaska Pipeline was $900-million, but the final cost reached $8-billion, which would be the equivalent of $32-billion in today’s dollars.

Seventy-thousand people worked on the pipeline construction, based in worker camps that were built in several locations along the route. Many of them still take great pride in being part of the project.

“For those of us that were part of it, there was no question about motivation - that was mandatory,” said Dave Haugen, a project manager during the construction. ”We had a great esprit de corps among the group that was trying to make it come together.”

Working on the pipeline also greatly advanced the careers and personal finances of young Alaskans.

“I signed on, because it was pretty good money,” said Scott Harter, who was employed as a construction laborer. “I also got to travel around the state and see places that I hadn't been before.”

Harter signed on to the pipeline project, when he was in his early 20s. He recently retired, after a four-decade long career in construction that began with his pipeline job.

Harter says the pipeline’s 40th anniversary is impressive, and it gives him great pride.

“Every time I drive down the Richardson Highway and I see the pipeline, it's a sense of pride that I was involved in building that,” said Halter. “Still pumping oil and still helping the United States.“

Clara King left her home in Houston, Texas, to join a construction crew at the Franklin Bluffs camp. King says the pipeline project opened up job opportunities that weren’t general available to women in the 1970s.

“I was extremely excited, because they had women in every capacity, which they had never had on a pipeline before,” said King. “It had always been a man's world, laying pipe.”

At the end of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, there’s a monument to the construction workers who built the line 40 years ago.

The statue contains a plaque that has the motto of the pipeline workers: “We didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” a testament to the thousands of people who built a project that helped build the Alaska we know today.

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