Governor’s budget boosts harbors, ferries, museum

Petersburg's North harbor, in the budget for major improvements. Photo by Joe Viechnicki.

Governor Sean Parnell’s capital budget proposes improving eight Southeast boat harbors and making plans for another one. Link to the full capital budget, listed by community.

About $16 million is divided among Sitka, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Port Alexander and Skagway. Saxman also has money for planning and design.

“I’m not sure if he referenced it this way, but it’s the fishermen’s roads to resources. I know in talking to them that that was a concern,” says Haines Representative Bill Thomas, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee.

He says it’s good news for the region’s fishermen and other boat-owners. Wrangell Representative Peggy Wilson agrees.

“These harbors have needed repairs for some time and it’s hard for the communities to have enough money to do it. This harbor grant fund is 50-50, so the community has to have 50 percent of the funds and the state matches it,” Wilson says.

One of the largest Southeast appropriations is for the State Library, Archives and Museum building in the capital city. Parnell proposes allocating $20 million toward the $127 million project.

Alaska State Museum. Department of Administration photo.

Juneau Senator Dennis Egan says that, plus money already in the bank, is good news.

“That’s going to give us enough money to really start construction on this facility. It’s not just a Juneau facility. It’s a statewide facility, but it surely benefits Juneau,” Egan says.

The budget also proposes transferring $60 million to Alaska Class Ferry construction. The money has already been appropriated, but needs to be moved to a different account. That will make a total of $120 million allocated to the ship, though more may be needed.

Other marine highway items include new fast ferry engines, improvements to the Prince Rupert terminal, and money for maintenance.

The budget includes some money for energy projects. But some lawmakers say it’s not enough.

Sitka Senator Bert Stedman is among those pushing for a transmission line connecting Kake to Petersburg and the southern Southeast power grid. Stedman, who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, says it could lower power costs.

“Kake runs their community on diesel and they have a fish-processing plant that runs on

The village of Kake. Photo by Melati Kaye.

diesel. We all know that diesel electrical generation makes you noncompetitive. And the community residents trying to light their homes and live a reasonable standard of living compared to the rest of the communities in Southeast, it makes it very difficult,” Stedman says.

He and Thomas say they are unhappy Parnell left the powerline out of his spending plan.

Other major projects for Southeast include Ketchikan bridge repairs, Sitka water treatment system improvements, a Yakutat airport perimeter fence and road work in Wrangell and Petersburg.

Parnell’s proposed spending plan is just one step in budget development. Egan, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, says the projects list will grow.

“We’ve already been talking and we’re going to have some meetings of some legislators and try to go through the budget and figure out what we can do to supplement some of the problems that we face at a local level and try to supplement what the governor’s done,” Egan says.

Parnell says his capital and operating budgets should slow or reduce spending.

Wilson says lawmakers will also look at cuts.

“We have to make sure that what we put in the budget is sustainable. And that’s a difficult thing to do. He worked on it some, but we’ll work some more when we come to Juneau,” Wilson says.

And then there’s other factors. State budgets depend heavily on funds from a variety of federal programs. Thomas expects to see cuts.

“What’s going to happen with the feds, we don’t know. And that may have a major, major impact on what the outcome of final budget is,” Thomas says.

The Legislature begins meeting January 17th.

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