May 19, 2011 |

Capital bill holds $9 million for town; Parnell yet to wield veto pen

The Alaska Legislature has approved about $8.5 million in capital projects spending in the Haines Borough, including $4.5 million for rehabilitation of borough roads, $1 million for a Chilkoot River bear-viewing platform, and $535,000 for removal of asbestos cement water lines.

In Klukwan, the legislature would spend $3.6 million, all but $100,000 of it going to the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Center.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has about three weeks to veto any of the projects.

"This is wonderful. It addresses all the borough’s top-priority requests," said borough manager Mark Earnest.

According to Kaci Schroeder Hotch, chief of staff for state Rep. Bill Thomas, the road money is for work on View and Lynnview streets, Fourth Avenue, Eagle Bluff Drive and Chilkat Lake Road.

Earnest said although some of the money would be used in the 26 Mile area, he was confident other amounts would go toward resurfacing Mission, Willard, First Avenue or Third Avenue, downtown streets that have been a high priority for borough officials. "We’ll do as much as we can this year."

Schroeder Hotch said the borough has "a lot of freedom" about how it spends the funds.

Money designed for the borough includes $120,000 for a Lutak port development plan, a master plan for improvements and potential expansion of the facility Earnest said is necessary for securing funding through bonds or state development agencies. The amount is half the $250,000 the borough initially estimated the plan would cost.

The dock needs some improvements but larger work, including expansion, will await commitments from shippers, Earnest said. "We don’t want to move forward with expansion unless we have something to justify the cost."

The list of Haines projects awaiting approval for funding includes some significant contributions to local non-profits. The American Bald Eagle Foundation would receive $270,000. That would bring state funding of the foundation to $914,000 since 2008.

Foundation operations director Cheryl McRoberts said the appropriation is half the group sought and would pay for a flight mew on Comstock Road. The foundation is seeking an identical amount for construction of a 40-by-100 dormitory structure at the site for graduate and undergraduate researchers and interns. "They said we could come back next year for the rest of (the funding)," McRoberts said.

The Southeast Alaska State Fair would get $122,000 for Harriett Hall furniture and electronic equipment for conventions. The Haines Boy Scout camp would receive $140,000 for bathrooms and campgrounds.

The Haines School would get cushioning beneath the wooden floor of Karl Ward Gym, $250,000, and $4,300 for new skis.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the bundle is $500,000 for a local "veterans’ home." The appropriation would go to figuring out if a small veterans’ home could be established in Haines.

Thomas and Haines Assisted Living officials have been looking at the idea, said Schroeder Hotch. "They’d work with the (Veterans’ Administration) to determine need in the area… This was an idea that was brought to (Thomas) and it’s an issue that’s near and dear to him. He thought it was worth looking into."

The $3.5 million for the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Center would fund roughly half the center and allow the village to seek matching funds from private foundations, said center board secretary Lani Hotch. "We could go hard after those kinds of grants if we have most of it."

The legislature’s list includes a $468,000 renewable energy grant for Alaska Power and Telephone’s Connelly Lake Project and an $80,000 grant for Schubee Lake.

The Connelly Lake money would finish a feasibility study with up-to-date numbers and start project design. "This would start the engineers down the road," said AP&T’s Danny Gonce.

The Schubee money would go toward measuring water flows there, which hasn’t been done, Gonce said. Schubee is about four to five years behind Connelly Lake in planning, Gonce said.

Both projects are listed in a second tier of energy projects and were vetoed by Parnell last year. "Who knows what the funding chances are," Gonce said. "We can’t say what the governor’s going to do. So far our track record has not been so great."

The legislature also approved $805,000 in community revenue sharing, about $200,000 more than the borough had budgeted to receive.

In addition, it approved $140,000 from operating funds for monitoring Chilkat River escapement.

The bear-viewing platform is intended to minimize conflicts between brown bears and visitors along the narrow, often-crowded riverside road corridor. A 270-foot deck and walkway near Deer Rock is envisioned, as well as 10 additional parking spaces. Thomas has characterized the spending as a health and safety issue.

The Legislature also approved $400,000 for the state Department of Transportation to buy property north of the Main Street maintenance yard. The purchase is to address concerns about fish passage through culverts there, and possibly move the DOT shop off a fish stream there.

"We want to look at improving the creek and removing the culvert to open up the creek a little more," said Gary Davis, Southeast regional director for DOT.

Rep. Thomas did not return messages this week. He was scheduled to address the Haines Chamber of Commerce noon Friday at Chilkat Restaurant.