Walker administration removes transportation commissioner

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Monday, January 12, 2015 10:28pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker’s administration asked for and received state transportation commissioner Patrick Kemp’s resignation Monday following Kemp’s defense of his department’s pursuit of the Juneau access road, a Walker spokeswoman said Monday.

Spokeswoman Grace Jang said Walker insists on having commissioners aligned with his decisions and policies.

Kemp was a holdover from former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration. He had planned to retire at the end of November but stayed on as acting commissioner after Walker was sworn in Dec. 1.

Kemp said Monday that he wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal.

“They just called and said I could go now, so I’m going,” Kemp said in a brief telephone interview.

John Binder, who has served as a deputy commissioner, was named acting commissioner, Jang said, adding that Walker plans to decide on a permanent commissioner by month’s end.

Late last month, Walker halted new, non-obligated spending on six large-scale projects, including the Juneau road and Knik Arm crossing, and asked that project managers report on the potential effects of delaying, suspending or terminating contracts. The state is facing multibillion-dollar budget deficits amid much lower than expected oil prices.

Kemp defended the Juneau road project in a response memo to Walker’s budget director dated Jan. 5 and made public last Friday. He attached a presentation given to lawmakers last year that he said showed the cost of ferry service is “highly disproportional” to the number of citizens served.

Juneau is not connected to the road system and is accessible by air or water. State-run ferries provide transportation between Juneau and other Southeast communities. Kemp, in the memo, said the cost of ferry service is a “perpetual drain” on state budgets.

“Only by intervening with initially high capital highway expenditures is this ongoing operating and capital replacement cost of ferries lessened,” he wrote.

The department also raised concerns that the state could have to repay federal funds if it ended work on the road and Knik Arm bridge before those projects are completed. So far, nearly $100 million in federal money has gone toward the projects. The department said the Federal Highway Administration was researching whether the federal government would need to be immediately repaid if the projects were indefinitely delayed.

The federal agency has said it expects the state to “move expeditiously” on both projects, given delays under prior governors, the department said.

Both projects are controversial. Kemp said in the memo that both represent cost-effective opportunities to improve transportation. But critics question the cost.

Jang said the letter showed that Kemp was not aligned with Walker’s priorities.

It wasn’t just the letter, she said. The administration planned to appoint a new permanent commissioner anyway, but the letter provided the timing to ask Kemp to step down, she said.

Kemp said the letter was truthful and said he thought that’s what the administration wanted. There was no editorializing, just facts, he said.

The road project would provide access further north from Juneau but still require short ferry rides to connect travelers to Haines or Skagway. The Knik Arm bridge would connect Anchorage to land near Point MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

More in News

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
District unions call for ‘walk-in’ school funding protest

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others

tease
House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Most Read