Communities make pitch for $100 million crime lab

Posted: Monday, January 07, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Several communities are competing for a new $100 million crime lab to replace the aging facility in Anchorage.

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Wasilla, Palmer and Kenai would like to see the crime lab built in their communities. With plans calling to put the new crime lab on 12 acres, the communities outside Anchorage feel they have the edge.

Anchorage, where the current lab was built in 1986, has already begun negotiations with the Heritage Land Bank to build the new facility. Gov. Sarah Palin last month proposed a general obligation bond to build the lab.

Lawmakers are expected to take up the question when they get back to work in Juneau on Jan. 15. If approved, the lab could be up and operating by June 2010.

The state's existing crime lab is just 18,000 square feet. The new facility would be a spacious 80,000 square feet.

"It would be a much greater land value and less costly for the taxpayers," said Jonathan Owen, director of public safety in Palmer, in touting a Palmer location.

Mayor John Combs said Palmer is already home to some high-tech businesses, citing as an example Terra Resources, a company that surveys the ocean floor.

"The lab doesn't need walk-in traffic," Combs said. "They can do their work here as easily as in a big city."

John Glass, the state deputy commissioner of public safety, said he had been in contact with the principals in the three communities, but official negotiations were not under way.

He said, though, that Palmer, Wasilla and Kenai as well as Anchorage are possible locations.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said Monday that the city offered to locate the lab - free of cost - on 15 to 20 acres adjacent to an existing state fire marshal's training center there.

Wasilla Police Chief Angela Long said the city would like the lab to be located in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, even if not within Wasilla city limits.

Lab supervisor Orin Dym said the lab serves the entire state and could be built anywhere. But "a lot of our business is here in Anchorage, so that would mean moving a lot of evidence" from Anchorage to another site, he said.

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