Possible loss of nat'l guard worries official

Company's departure could lead to loss of 12 to 15 full-time jobs

Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Dimming prospects for the city's getting a new National Guard armory prompted Juneau Assembly member Don Etheridge Jr. on Monday to call for a resolution promoting construction of the facility to Alaska's congressional delegation.

During Monday's assembly meeting, Etheridge asked city staff to formulate a resolution for consideration at a future meeting. He said he had heard from a member of the local National Guard who "let me know if this doesn't happen, the Guard's battalion headquarters company will be moved out of Juneau and sent to Anchorage."

That could mean a loss to Juneau of 12 to 15 full-time jobs, Etheridge said.

A couple of years ago, a new armory in Juneau rated fifth on the Defense Department's National Guard Bureau capital projects list, said Mac Metcalfe, the Alaska National Guard's Enlisted Association business agent in Juneau.

"But then they changed the way they did the rankings and last year the project dropped to No. 70 on the list," Metcalfe said.

The priorities now are aviation hangers and aviation training, he said.

The armory site originally was federal land dedicated for the purpose and eventually ceded to the state, which in turn transferred ownership to the Alaska Mental Health Land Trust. That trust recently made it known it wanted to develop the land, thus forcing two of the three local National Guard companies to look for a new home. The third unit is on Juneau Airport property.

"If we don't have a home we might be moved elsewhere in the state," Metcalfe said. "Then (Southeast) would be the only region in the state without a major National Guard presence."

The unit is a "great resource," said Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon, citing its work during the Thanksgiving Day storm of 1983, when winds and high tides crashed waves over Egan Drive and wreaked havoc throughout Southeast.

"The National Guard came out in full force here and especially in the smaller communities of Southeast such as Tenakee," MacKinnon said. "They've got a great history."

The city has provided land for a new facility at Mile 7 Glacier Highway and the state Legislature has appropriated $1.5 million for construction design of the armory. The total price tag is estimated at $9.5 million, 80 percent of which would be paid by the federal government.

The Guard also began looking at increasing its funding chances last year by teaming up with the University of Alaska Southeast to build a 55,000-square-foot joint facility on university land between Auke Bay Elementary School and UAS student housing.

Fernand Chandonnet can be reached at fchandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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