Work allowed to progress on 3 large-scale projects

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Tuesday, July 14, 2015 11:15pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker’s administration is allowing work to progress on three large-scale infrastructure projects, but he has not yet given a final blessing.

Recent memos from Walker’s budget director, Pat Pitney, outlined allowable work on the Knik Arm Bridge, a road from Juneau and the Susitna-Watana dam. The work is to be completed with existing funding for the projects.

In December, Walker halted new, unobligated spending on those and several other major projects pending further review, citing a fall in oil prices that contributed to large state budget deficits.

The state transportation department had raised concerns that Alaska could face penalties, including potentially having to repay federal money, if the Knik Arm and Juneau projects were stopped or suspended.

For the Knik Arm project, which would connect Anchorage to land near Point MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the allowable work includes submitting a letter of interest for a federal loan. Under a bill passed last year by state lawmakers, such a loan would represent a critical piece of funding for the project.

Bob French, a critic of the project, said Tuesday that if the project gets turned down for a loan, he hopes Walker would see that as the federal government saying the project doesn’t make financial sense and therefore should be dropped.

For the Juneau project, the allowable work includes completing an environmental impact report and reaching a so-called record of decision in which a preferred alternative would be identified.

Pitney, in a memo to transportation commissioner Marc Luiken dated July 6, said reaching a record of decision would ensure the state does not have to repay nearly $27 million in federal funds. The project will be evaluated once that milestone is reached. Based on the findings and state revenues, a decision will be made on how to proceed, Pitney said.

Juneau is not connected to the road system and is accessible only by air or water. The project would provide access further north, but it would still require short ferry rides to connect travelers to Haines or Skagway.

The administration is allowing the Alaska Energy Authority, which has been pursuing the proposed Susitna dam, to continue to move the project through 2017, at which point it would be evaluated in the context of the state’s fiscal situation and other competing major capital projects.

Emily Ford, who is with the energy authority, said the goal is to preserve the investment that the state has already made, including finishing studies that are near completion and compiling collected data into reports.

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