Dunleavy opens door to megaprojects with administrative order

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his proposed budget- and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend-related constitutional amendments with reporters at a press conference in the Capitol in Juneau on Jan. 30, 2018.
Gov. Michael Dunleavy discusses his proposed budget and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend-related constitutional amendments with reporters at a press conference in the Capitol in Juneau on Jan. 30. On Feb. 22, Dunleavy rescinded seven administrative orders by former Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Gov. Michael Dunleavy rescinded seven administrative orders last week enacted by his predecessor, former Gov. Bill Walker. They include an order that had halted state spending on six infrastructure projects.

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the change doesn’t mean Dunleavy is making any of the projects a priority. But it sends a message.

“Rescinding these doesn’t necessarily mean that money’s going to be spent on them,” Shuckerow said. “But it does say that the governor’s approach is not to just unilaterally shut things off through administrative policy … If the merits of the program or the project speak for itself, if the economics say it can be done at some point if there is interest, then it’s something that he’s willing to consider.”

The projects include:

  • the Ambler Road, which would connect the Dalton Highway with the Ambler mining district, which has copper and other minerals;
  • Juneau Access Project, which would extend the road north from Juneau, shortening ferry trips;
  • Knik Arm Bridge;
  • Susitna-Watana Dam, which would generate electricity;
  • Kodiak Launch Complex; and
  • Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project, which would focus a natural gas pipeline on supplying Fairbanks rather than on international export.

Building trade unions would like to see Dunleavy support the projects. And International Union of Operating Engineers district representative Corey Baxter said rescinding Walker’s order is a good first step.

“It’s going to bring back those big projects and hopefully get them developed,” Baxter said.

But it will be a long way from Dunleavy’s action to the projects being restarted. Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society said the economics of the projects don’t add up.

“The state just does not have the money to move forward with these projects,” she said. “And that hasn’t changed. If anything, our situation has gotten worse recently.”

Epstein noted that one project that Dunleavy has expressed an openness to considering — the Knik Arm Bridge — would be located near the epicenter of the earthquake in November.

The other administrative orders that Dunleavy rescinded in a single, separate order were related to requiring apprentices on large, state-funded projects; workplace safety and employee privacy; a task force exploring a commuter rail from Anchorage to Matanuska-Susitna Borough; and the state’s climate change strategy.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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