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Washington governor explores economic opportunity in Alaska

Gregoire acknowledges disagreements, works to build relationship

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday confronted concerns raised by Alaska's shipping and fishing sectors during a two-day trade mission, her first to the state.

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She also hoped to forge a working relationship with Gov. Sarah Palin over those issues and others, such as tourism, education, global warming and natural gas supplies.

Gregoire acknowledged recent disagreements between the symbiotically linked states over salmon fisheries, cargo taxes and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Everybody remembers a time when our relationship was really quite positive and some things have gotten in the way of that, but there is a clear desire to return to the positive relationship," Gregoire said after meeting with business leaders in Anchorage.

Alaska and Washington have long tussled over king salmon fisheries. Many of the fry released from hatcheries in Washington swim north to feed in the rich waters of the Gulf of Alaska, and end up in the holds of Alaska's fishing fleet instead of returning to their home waters to spawn. Washington has demanded that Alaska fishermen reduce their fishing quotas to allow more salmon to return and Alaska has complied, said Dave Bedford, head of the Department of Fish and Game.

With the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada up for renewal this year, Gregoire wants to make sure Alaska and Washington work together during negotiations.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty was written to prevent the overfishing of Pacific salmon and to determine how the harvests should be divided between individual states and Canada.

"I want to talk to Governor Palin about continuing to be united on sustainability," Gregoire said.

Gregoire, a Democrat, was scheduled to dine with Alaska's Republican governor on Monday evening.

"Governor Palin is very interested in talking with Governor Gregoire about fishing issues as well as shipping and transportation matters, but I think this dinner is more about establishing a relationship with the two governors," said Palin's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow.

As for the port issue, Gregoire spent much of Monday reassuring shippers and other Alaskans that a cargo tax, proposed and later abandoned in Washington's legislature earlier this year, would not be revived. It would have added a fee of $100 or more on shipping containers carrying freight in and out of that state.

Ninety-seven percent of Alaska's goods pass through Washington, 70 percent through the Port of Tacoma and the rest through Seattle and private docks.

"If you sit on it, eat it, wear it, it probably came through Tacoma," said Timothy Farrell, the port's executive director.

One Alaska legislator, Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, had referred to the tax bill as "an act of aggression from our southern neighbors."

"Nobody had any intent on hurting the economy of Alaska, or raising prices on the people of Alaska," Gregoire said. "It was all about trying to fund our own infrastructure for our container ports and it wasn't intended to send a negative message, which I fear was received here."

"I didn't like the container tax anyway," she added.

The ties between Alaska and Washington date back to the late 19th century, when miners rushing to gold finds in Nome and Canada's Yukon Territories passed through Seattle in droves, earning the city the nickname "Gateway to Alaska." According to the National Park Service, miners continued to funnel through Seattle in the early 20th century, buying up supplies on their way to further discoveries in Fairbanks and other lodes in Alaska's remote Interior.



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