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Assembly meets with Juneau delegation

Posted: January 19, 2012 - 1:17am

Members of Juneau’s legislative delegation met with City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members Wednesday morning for a short overview that focused on how Juneau’s and Alaska’s issues are being received in Washington, D.C..

Don Norden, partner and counsel of Washington lobbying firm Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, along with senior associate Katie Kachel updated the group on the outlook of progress in the nation’s capital, and some things that could affect Alaska and Juneau.

“I don’t have to tell any of you in the current conditions of Washington, D.C.,” Norden said. “... I’ve been around the U.S. Congress for 25 years. This is the most confused and dysfunctional I’ve ever seen a legislative body. It’s like with an earthquake, at the fault line there’s pressure. At some point, that pressure builds up and there is action — there is a boom. We are at that point now, heading into a presidential election. In terms of Congress it’s not going to get any better.”

Norden said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of activity going on in committees and even congress.

He also focused on the earmark ban, saying that smaller states (in terms of representation) like Alaska still favor earmarks. He said Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich still want to know what community priorities are — as well as the lobbyists. That’s still important because staff on both ends can watch for new federal grants that may help, he said.

Kachel said communities should have between three and five requests — and they should be for projects that would do well in receiving competitive grants. She also recommended the cost be no higher than $5 million.

Kachel said there are 10-15 grants either in existence or coming up that Juneau may be interested in.

“Juneau has been pretty good about getting some of these competitive grants,” she said. “Definitely keep up the good work on submitting these competitive grants.”

Airport initiatives are still rocky. Kachel said Congress passed a short-term Federal Aviation Administration funding authorization. Norden added the bill to reauthorize the FAA was due in Oct. 2007.

Kachel said Congress passed appropriations, which continue to fill grants for the FAA, but that was done for specific bills, not a continuing resolution.

Kachel said another issue that could hit Juneau International Airport significantly — and other Alaska airports — is the Environmental Protection Agency is working on banning Urea — a de-icer. She said they expect a final rule to be released relatively soon.

Urea is commonly used to de-ice runways and airplanes.

“This would harm Juneau significantly due to the cost of shipping and using the alternative at airports,” Kachel said. “This is not an issue that affects the rest of the Lower 48. They said with some reservations, the alternative is E36. It can only be shipped, I think, in liquid form.”

Kachel said the cost concern of switching to the alternative may not be as alarming, depending upon what the final rules state. She said the initial proposal included a way to continue using the Urea, which includes ammonia mitigation planning — which Juneau already does.

As for education funding, Kachel said the Juneau School District will see a slight decrease in funding this year because of a reduction in funding from the Secure Rural Schools initiative. It was reauthorized, but decreased by 5 percent. Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding will need to be reauthorized this fiscal year, but is currently operating flatly.

Kachel said there will be some concern for the Docks and Harbors department because of action from the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Kachel said it basically expands the entities’ reach and is related to the “nexus to tributaries,” which essentially will equate to longer permitting times from the Corps. Kachel said there isn’t currently a proposed rule released, however the firm has information that’s where the regulations will be headed.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, asked if there was any way Alaska could be separated from the rest of the contiguous U.S. Kerttula said in the past Sen. Ted Stevens would come in and “rescue” them from this kind of legislation. She said such a proposal would make sense for the Lower 48, but not Alaska.

Kachel said the mood around Congress is chilling to that kind of attitude lately, however they haven’t tried it. She said they could if that’s what the delegation wanted.

The discussion then turned to Juneau’s state funding request list, which has now been prioritized. Assembly Member Johan Dybdahl asked about funding circumstances for replacement of the roof on Centennial Hall. Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl had previously expressed concern they shouldn’t even ask for funding from the state for it anymore because it had been passed by the Legislature three times and vetoed each time by two different governors. Dybdahl asked if the delegation shared that sentiment.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said that because it is an emergency shelter, it could be eligible for some kind of federal funding.

“I think it’s probably seen by the current governor and past governor as a city responsibility,” she said.

The Assembly also asked what the capital budget would look like this year.

“I think we’re going to have a huge capital budget,” Kerttula said. “I don’t see it any other way. It’s an election year, oil is still very high. With the Juneau delegation — at the last count we get hundreds of millions of dollars in capital requests.”

Muñoz said the governor has slotted millions in funds for Juneau — including $20 million for the State Library Archives Museum project, several million for a Fish and Wildlife project, an allotment for a parking garage and $10 million for Glacier Highway construction.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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