Funding fears lead to cuts in pipeline security

State officials don't know if Legislature will pay for security costs

Posted: Monday, March 04, 2002

FAIRBANKS - State public safety officials have ceased 24-hour operation of the Dalton Highway security checkpoint, citing uncertainty over whether the Legislature will pay the bill.

The Department of Public Safety scaled back operations to 12 hours a day, at random times, Friday at the checkpoint put in place just south of the Yukon River Bridge to provide increased security for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Close to 9,000 commercial vehicles and 775 private vehicles have been stopped at the checkpoint on the highway, which runs to Alaska's North Slope.

The entire checkpoint will be scrapped April 5 unless legislators make their intentions known, according to Public Safety Commissioner Glenn Godfrey in a letter to key lawmakers Feb. 22.

"In the absence of action on the supplemental request or other indication of the Legislature's intent to fund the costs of continuing the checkpoint throughout the rest of this year, our only realistic alternative is to phase out the extra security effort," he wrote.

The supplemental request is for about $360,000 to cover what the department will have spent on the checkpoint through April 5.

"The reason for the letter is to say, 'Listen folks, we've been doing this and already run up this amount of money,' " Deputy Commissioner Del Smith said. "If you're not going to act favorably on it, we need to know that right now."

Smith said the department has not received a reply from legislators.

The $360,000 request for the checkpoint is a small part of a bill in which the governor proposes to spend $37.5 million in state general funds to help pay for his homeland security plan.

The request contains items that range from adding Village Public Safety Officers to improving the state's emergency communication system. So far the measure has spent the legislative session in the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs.

"We're going to move (the bill) out but not until we have questions answered on some of the cost estimates that we have in the appropriation," said committee Chairman Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican. "I feel that we need to scrutinize it."

Chenault noted that the state faces a billion-dollar budget shortfall.

"We can only do what we can with the resources that we have," he said.

Chenault said he would wait to see how the budget leaders respond to the Department of Public Safety letter before he did so.

The letter sent to the Senate was addressed to Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican.

"It's going to be up to the committee," he said last week.

Public safety officials also hope legislators will state their intentions for funding the checkpoint past June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The department proposes to replace the checkpoint July 1 with a full Dalton Highway post of the Alaska State Troopers, meaning six full-time patrol troopers.

On Friday the checkpoint staffing was halved to one trooper and two Alaska Defense Force members.

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