The Legislature passed a spending bill that funds several projects throughout Southeast Alaska.
For decades, backers have pushed for a closer connection to Haines and Skagway, which have road links to the mainland highway system.
Gov. Bill Walker halted the Juneau Access Project two years ago, saying it was among a group of large projects that Alaska could no longer afford.
Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat, said that was a mistake.
“Everybody you talk to in the Railbelt, especially, says, ‘Why can’t you drive to the capital?” Well, unlike Honolulu, we could make a way to drive to Juneau,” Egan said.
Egan and other state senators put a little more than $20 million in the capital budget.
It’s money Walker reallocated to other projects in the same general area.
So rather than new spending, it’s shifted back.
First Things First Foundation executive director Denny DeWitt points to a recent survey suggesting more than half of capital city residents support the project. Fewer than 40 percent of respondents opposed it.
“It’s not the whole package, but it will continue moving the process through the decision-making process,” DeWitt said. “Hopefully what we’ve done in terms of looking at what Juneau wants in its transportation policies, hopefully it will have some impact on elected officials.”
Opponents say the project would damage the ocean and shore where the approximately 50-mile road would be built.
Travelers also would still have to take a short ferry ride to connect to the mainland road system.
The governor could possibly veto the re-appropriation.
The Legislature’s capital budget funds a hydropower project near Kake, a small Southeast city dependent on diesel generators.
Inside Passage Electrical Cooperative CEO Jodi Mitchell said it plans to build at Gunnuk Creek.
“The project will actually provide an estimated two-thirds of the current Kake load,” she said. “At times, we’ll be able to turn the diesels off, which is kind of the gold standard for hydro.”
Close to $4 million is appropriated to the project. The nonprofit also hopes to win a $3 million federal grant, Mitchell said, which would complete the funding.
But if it doesn’t, the cooperative could take out a loan.
Gunnuk Creek is the second of at least four hydroprojects planned for Hoonah, Kake and Angoon.
Mitchell said each one will lower rates – and pollution – in all communities the cooperative serves.
“I really am excited to find out when all these projects are done how much of our load is covered by renewable energy,” Mitchell said.
Another project in the capital budget would upgrade the king and coho salmon hatchery at Crystal Lake, near Petersburg, which Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association runs.
Production Manager Bill Gass said in an interview earlier this year the $1.5 million will replace raceways that have been leaking for several years.
“The danger now is that we’re afraid that this leak could turn into a catastrophic failure, at which point we could lose the whole thing,” Gass said. “It buys us continued time to operate.”
The budget also includes $5 million to help dispose of lead-contaminated soil from an old junkyard in Wrangell. The state plans to store it locally, but leaders want it shipped south.
Other Southeast Alaska capital project funding includes:
- Operating funds for Inter-Island Ferry Authority – $250,000
- Ketchikan cruise ship berths expansion – $3 million
- Ketchikan Houghtaling Elementary School roof – $2.4 million
- Ketchikan Pioneer Home structural upgrade – $1.25 million
- Craig Middle School gym floor replacement – $418,000
- Craig Elementary School door and flooring replacement – $111,000
- Craig Middle School siding and windows – $119,000
- Wrangell junkyard contaminated site cleanup – $5 million
- Petersburg Middle/High School entry renovation – $30,000
- Petersburg Middle/High School underground storage tank replacement -$115,000
- Crescent Boat Harbor improvements, Sitka – $5 million
- Hoonah central boiler replacement – $183,000
- Rebuild tender dock at Icy Strait Point tourist attraction in Hoonah to accommodate more ships – $1.1 million
- Juneau Court Plaza Building exterior improvements – $1 million
- Alaska Office Building roof – $900,000
Source: pps Alaska