Gov. Sarah Palin on Friday signed a letter requesting the federal Small Business Administration declare an "Economic Injury Disaster" for Juneau due to increased electricity costs caused by April 16 avalanches.
"Small businesses are the heart of our economy, and they need our help during this difficult time," Palin said in a press release announcing the request. She had earlier rejected a request from Juneau officials for a formal disaster declaration for the city.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said getting the small business declaration was an important step.
"Any incremental step forward is a big deal," he said.
A declaration may make Juneau businesses eligible for low-interest government loans.
Commissioner Emil Notti of the Department of Community and Economic Development reviewed the federal criteria for a declaration and determined that at least five small businesses were facing "substantial economic injury" and are in need of federal assistance.
Elton said the declaration would be only part of the help Juneau needs.
"The small business administration helps small businesses," he said. "I don't know that there'll be a direct benefit for residential ratepayers."
Gen. Craig Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, chairs the governor's Disaster Policy Cabinet and has been taking the lead on dealing with the Juneau energy crisis.
Residential rates have gone up from 11 cents per kilowatt-hour to more than 50 cents per kWh after Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. was forced to switch to diesel backup generators.
Campbell said he was optimistic the SBA request would be granted.
"The Small Business Administration has provided economic assistance in similar circumstances in Alaska's history, and I look forward to a positive response from the governor's letter requesting assistance," he said, in a press release issued Friday.
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