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Candidates for governor weigh in on Juneau projects

Murkowski supports channel dredging; Croft backs a new capitol in Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Candidates seeking their parties' nominations for governor have various ideas for capital-spending projects in Juneau.

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The Aug. 22 primary will decide the top two contestants for the race.

Speaking to a Juneau Rotary Club luncheon on Tuesday, Gov. Frank Murkowski said if he were re-elected, he would continue his support for building a highway-ferry link to Skagway and Haines.

Under Murkowski's leadership, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has pushed the road-shuttle ferry project known as "Juneau access" into its beginning phases. The department is expected to seek bids for contractors this week and is waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve its plans.

"We're not talking about it - we're doing it," Murkowski said after the luncheon.

The Juneau Assembly is voting on approving the state's plan to extend Glacier Highway about 50 miles to the Katzehin River, where the state wants to construct a shuttle terminal to ferry vehicles to Skagway or Haines. The governor has the authority to pursue the project even if cities and boroughs reject the state's plans.

Polls taken over the years show Juneau residents are split on the project.

Former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, who is seeking a third term this fall, said he sees the road as a regional issue, and he would want to hear from communities before deciding on the project, said campaign spokeswoman Patty Ginsberg.

Knowles is not expected to talk about specific capital projects in his campaign, Ginsberg added.

"Tony is really focused on big ideas and big issues," she said.

Dredging upper Gastineau Channel so fishing boats and others can easily pass through its shallow parts would, as proposed by Murkowski, relieve bottleneck traffic toward the lower end. Critics say it can't be done, as the state tried it before in 1959 and 1960 and it filled back in. Some environmentalists say they would hate to see the estuary in the area disturbed.

The dredging has not received the high-profile attention of the Glacier Highway extension project. Earlier this year Murkowski asked the Legislature for $7 million to partially fund the dredging in Juneau and another such project in the Dry Strait, near the Stikine River's mouth between Wrangell and Petersburg.

"Channel dredging here is a reality on a cost-flux basis because of the cost of fuel, the cost of going around Douglas Island," Murkowski said.

Lawmakers have not granted the governor's request.

Democratic candidate Eric Croft, an Anchorage representative, said he would support construction of a new capitol in Juneau. While his father, Chancy Croft, was in the Legislature from 1969 to 1978, Croft attended school in Juneau, and remembers the issue of moving the capital weighing heavily on residents, as it still does today.

If elected, he wants to settle the issue "once and for all," Croft said.

"The biggest capital project for Juneau is to make sure the capital stays," he said.

Former state legislator and Republican candidate John Binkley said the best way to keep the capital in Juneau is to support road access to the city.

Republican Sarah Palin was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but she told her campaign staff that she supported connecting the capital to the rest of state through communication and media.

"The efforts by the Alaska Committee to connect Juneau to the rest of the state electronically and via the media are huge. These are shown in excellent productions such as (the television program) 'Gavel to Gavel,'" she said in an e-mail statement relayed by her staff.

The state is on the brink of receiving a windfall of cash if the Legislature passes a higher tax on oil companies and if a pipeline is constructed to deliver natural gas to markets in Canada and the Midwest, Murkowski said.

At that point, capital projects for Juneau not considered before would be possible, the governor added.

"We could even build a golf course, for heaven's sake," he said.

Binkley said his opponent appears to be going "overboard" with spending plans, as the state should consider ways to save new sources of income.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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