April 19, 2012 | Vol.42 No. 16

Christmas in April: $19 million in projects

Projects in the Chilkat Valley would receive $18.9 million in state funding from bills approved in the past week by the Alaska Legislature, including $6.1 million for a new veterans’ home and $4.5 million in harbor breakwater improvements.

The amount is the highest in years. State Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, who helped secure the funds, said he believes the spending will survive the veto pen of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell because amounts are within parameters the governor established earlier in the year.

Upgrades of an additional $15 million to the Haines basin are to be included in a $450 million general obligation bond with other ports, harbor and road projects that must be approved by voters statewide this fall.

Thomas, a local gillnet fisherman, said he’s seeking state money for the harbor here in response to reductions in funding by the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We have the smallest harbor in Southeast,” he remarked.

Fisherman Norman Hughes said combined funding would amount to the biggest harbor project here in decades. Breakwater improvements are to create a protected harbor entrance and were included in Parnell’s budget.

Thomas said there’s also $620,000 in the budget for new spawning channels, including three on the Chilkat River.

“This is the first time Haines has done this well overall,” Thomas said of capital spending for the Haines area. He said other communities in his district in previous years have received large appropriations. “It’s not unusual for communities to get this kind of money once in a while.”

Thomas said the veterans’ home didn’t make it on a list of statewide projects approved by the state House and Senate, so he secured district funds for it. The facility would serve 10 to 20 veterans and would be located on the site of the Thunderbird Motel.

The facility is needed so veterans from Southeast needn’t leave the region in their final years, he said. “Hopefully the priority would be for (veterans from Southeast) but it doesn’t have to be.” He wants the building named for two deceased soldiers, Command Sgt. Major Howard McRae Jr. of Haines and Dr. Walter Soboleff, a Southeast Native leader and icon.

Other major appropriations include $1.3 million for a Chilkoot Indian Association community service building. The building would incorporate tribal offices, a space for large meetings and an area set aside for cultural practices like carving.

The tribe has planned the building for several years. It would be located on Third Avenue near the intersection with Mission Street. The tribe also stands to receive $36,000 for a front-end loader.

Nearly $1 million would go to driving pilings and extending floats at Letnikov Cove, a summertime dock used by commercial and recreational vessels. Thomas said the Letnikof facility must now accommodate boats that previously tied up at Chilkat State Park, where floats were permanently removed from along a boat ramp.

The Takshanuk Watershed Council would receive $264,000, including $200,000 for land acquisition the group missed getting a few years ago due to a procedural oversight. A youth cleanup of Lynn Canal beaches would get $50,000 and $14,000 would go for a “hoop” house.

Other spending approved by both houses includes $250,000 in additional funds to replace flooring and bleachers at Karl Ward Gym.

Spending for Haines Borough municipal needs totaled over $1 million. It includes $400,000 for a road grader, $60,000 for a sludge composting shed, $700,000 for replacement of the Barnett Road water tank and $7,000 for technology upgrades at the public library.

A host of non-profits will receive money under the adopted budget, including the American Bald Eagle Foundation, in line to get $160,000 to finish an eagle mew and build four dormitory rooms on Comstock Road property. The Lynn Canal American Legion would get $150,000 for fire suppression.

Chilkat Valley Preschool is to receive $30,000 for modular furniture and Haines Animal Rescue Kennel’s $10,550 would pay for interior vehicle caging.

Haines Senior Center would get $65,000 for weatherization improvements and $10,000 in computer equipment for seniors.

Appropriations include $2.6 million for Department of Transportation projects in Haines, including $1.6 million for a sand and chemical storage building, $1 million for highway reconstruction between 3 Mile and 21 Mile Haines Highway, and $150,000 for emergency repairs at the 19 Mile slide area.

Valleywide appropriations include $213,000 for projects in Klukwan: fire hall repair and expansion ($54,833), historical building repair ($45,000), Jilkaat Kwan dock repair ($63,500) and road maintenance equipment upgrades ($50,000).

Appropriations also include $320,000 for improvements to the Haines armory building at Lutak.

School foundation funding stayed the same. Legislators provided an additional $25 million statewide for student transportation and vocational education services. Legislators also funded the state’s research institute to check on efficiencies.

“This is to look at how funds are spent on education and are we getting the product we should for the money that we’re giving? There’s a lot of research to be done,” Thomas said.

The state’s operating budget, which Thomas oversees as co-chair of the House Finance Committee, includes $1.2 million for genetic stock identification, work that will help the state track Haines-bound salmon caught in other fisheries, Thomas said.

A special legislative session started Wednesday to address changes in the state’s oil tax structure, a natural gas pipeline and sex trafficking legislation. It will last up to 30 days.