U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, on a visit to Juneau during a swing through the state, told reporters this is the time for Alaska's other U.S. senator, Frank Murkowski, to run for governor if he's going to do it.
Gov. Tony Knowles will complete his second term next year and is ineligible to run for a third consecutive term.
"I hope (Murkowski) doesn't run. But if he's going to run, this is about the best time I can think of to do so," Stevens said Monday afternoon during a press conference in the Goldbelt Hotel lobby.
"The governor's term is expiring and (Murkowski) wouldn't run against an incumbent and there's no possible conflict there as far as relationships over a period of time," Stevens said. "I don't think an incumbent senator ought to run against an incumbent governor, that's all."
Stevens, 77, didn't mince words about his own intention to run next year for another term. "I am running for re-election," he said. He has served in the Senate since December 1968 and is the second-ranking Republican, the sixth most senior member of the Senate and a high-ranked member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Stevens, in a wide-ranging interview, said he thought construction of the federal fisheries research center at Lena Point in Juneau would be fully funded by federal fiscal year 2003.
The 69,000-square-foot center, employing about 105 people, is budgeted at $50 million. Nearly $30 million has been appropriated so far, with a further $11.7 million in President Bush's budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, 2002. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects to begin site work in September and move in by February of 2004, local officials said.
"I think we're on course, and we've appropriated the amount that's been requested and a little bit more, so far," Stevens said.
On another issue of local concern, Stevens was less optimistic. Stevens said he has heard a request from fishermen and communities affected by commercial fishing closures in Glacier Bay for more federal compensation than the $23 million allotted by Congress. Some commercial fisheries in the bay have been shut down entirely, and others are being phased out as the current generation of fishermen retires.
"I don't know if that is going to be possible," Stevens said of the request for more compensation.
Stevens also said he would like to see a modernized state ferry system. But he couldn't say whether the type of ferries that Alaska chooses fast or conventional would affect possible federal funding or whether much funding is forthcoming. He said his office is researching how other states direct federal highway funds to ferries.
"We have already started looking at the question of how can we find additional moneys to assure that the state ferry system of the whole state, it's not just Southeast, has the capability of being modernized and not staying in the last generation forever," Stevens said.
Stevens also advocated expanded cruise ship traffic in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
A federal appeals court ruled in February that the National Park Service in 1996 improperly expanded the number of cruise ships it allows in Glacier Bay. The court said the Park Service must roll back the number of ships to pre-1996 levels until it prepares a more comprehensive environmental analysis.
Stevens said he favored allowing more cruise ships in Glacier Bay. He couldn't see that people who never left their ships while they're in the bay could damage the environment.
"One of the premiere goals is for people to see Glacier Bay from a cruise ship, and I think we ought to accommodate them as long as we don't have a risk of collision," he said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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