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Egan reviews session's high, low points

Disappointment over loss of coastal programs mars successes

Posted: May 16, 2011 - 9:52pm
Sen. Dennis Egan   Chris Miller
Chris Miller
Sen. Dennis Egan

The 2011 legislative session was “disappointing,” and “frustrating,” but despite the disappointments, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said there were a number of good things for Juneau and Southeast that came out of it as well.

“Capital projects-wise, it went well,” said Egan, who was elected to his first full term as senator last fall, after his appointment following the resignation of former Sen. Kim Elton, also a Democrat.

Juneau has nearly $78 million in projects in the capital budget, pending vetoes from Gov. Sean Parnell.

Egan said he’s unaware of any projects the administration opposes, but the total size of the capital budget, $3.18 billion, is more than Parnell had indicated he supported.

The biggest disappointment comes from the loss of the Coastal Management program, he said.

“The thing that really concerns me coming out of the session is the Alaska Coastal Management Program,” he said. That program gives communities such as Juneau a say in federal coastal issues that concern them, and enables the state to weigh in on issues such as offshore oil drilling in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, he said.

Egan called outcome “horrible.”

“I think if we’d stuck around another day or two we could have solved that,” he said.

Earlier in the session, energy projects were a matter of dispute between Parnell and the Senate, with the Senate attempting to craft a “veto-proof” package of $450 million worth of energy projects.

One of those projects was for Juneau, $2 million to harden the transmission lines to the Snettisham Power Project against avalanches such as those that twice cut power to Juneau and sent electric rates soaring in recent years.

Those lines are owned by a state agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and are operated by Juneau-based Alaska Electric Light & Power.

The clash with the governor forced the special session that concluded Saturday.

Also in the capital budget are several projects for neighboring communities for which the Juneau delegation has been supportive, including Angoon’s Thayer Creek hydroelectric project and Hoonah’s Pegmatite Mountain geothermal project.

Egan acknowledged that some people in neighboring Tenakee Springs don’t like the project, but said he’d like to help the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative get its communities off fossil fuel, as Juneau has been able to do.

“I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but why not let them try it,” he said.

“We’re trying to make us more energy sustainable,” he said.

Egan said before the next legislative session next January, he expects the Senate to continue work in bills such as the oil tax rate reduction sought by Parnell and a bill he’s proposed to make defined-benefit pension plans available to public employees in Alaska.

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which would hear both bills, is chaired by Egan.

Egan said he’d like to have interim hearings in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai, possibly in conjunction with other interim work to save time and travel expense.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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