Thomas: Energy fund, harbors top session work

House Finance Committee Co-chairman Bill Thomas waits to speak during a House floor session on the operating budget. Image courtesy Alaska Legislature.








Haines Representative Bill Thomas spent much of this year’s session working on the state’s operating budget. He also got projects into the capital budget for his widespread district, made up of villages and small cities from Metlakatla to Prince William Sound.

Thomas has focused for several years on reducing energy costs.

Angoon’s Thayer Lake hydroproject got a chunk of money this year. But there weren’t many others in the capital budget.

Still, Thomas says one funding measure is a sign of progress.

“The renewable energy bill is critical to all of rural Alaska. It’s $50 million for the next 10 years, if we have the money. As long as we continue to have the money people will continue to retire diesel and hopefully put in wind generation and hydros,” he says.

The Haines Republican also praises a loan program to help build transmission lines and generation projects. That was added in by the Senate.

Other Legislative funding will benefit fishermen and women.

“Working with the governor we put a lot of money into the hatcheries and the harbor program to keep our harbors working. What we call our road to resources starts at the harbor,” he says.

Funded harbor projects are in Sitka, Saxman, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Port Alexander and Skagway.

Thomas also worked to find money for a small veterans’ home in Haines.

“We don’t have a home in Southeast and our veterans have to go elsewhere and typically they end up passing there and then people have to go get them. People want to stay home in Southeast,” he says.

It will house 14 to 20 veterans when completed. The home will be named for Tlingit leader Walter Soboleff and noted Haines veteran Howard McRae.

Thomas was among lawmakers backing other legislation for service-members this session.

The Vietnam veteran sponsored a measure banning picketing and protesting during funerals. Another would have sped up the professional licensing of qualified vets. A third would have set a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

They passed the House, but not the Senate.

“I think it was a dishonor for them to hold up honoring Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Day, but that was their choice on the other side,” he says.

Thomas succeeded in pushing through a bill honoring Cordova vets. Fourteen unnamed bridges will soon recognize individual service-members from World War I and II, as well as Vietnam.

Another span, over the Eyak River will be named after Marie Smith Jones. She was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language.

The measure also names a Petersburg bridge after Harry Kito, a hometown service-member who died in Vietnam.

“And also the airport in Klawock, they call it Klawock Frank Peratrovich Airport. Frank Peratrovich was the only Alaska Native in the constitutional convention for statehood. He also served in the territorial and state legislatures,” he says.

Thomas has served in the Legislature since 2004, representing a winding district with about 50 communities, many of them quite small.

The most recent reapportionment plan takes away some of those towns and adds Sitka, which will become the largest community in the district. He’s running for re-election in what’s for now called District 34.

Hear a report on Thomas’ plans before this year’s legislative session began.

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