If Ketchikan wants a bridge to its airport, the community has only to decide where. Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, says he will get the money for it.
He promised that when he was named chairman of the House Transportation Committee early this year. He reiterated it last Saturday in Ketchikan, and with feeling, when he addressed more than 100 people, local civic leaders and friends and his congressional party at Salmon Falls Resort.
Young landed in Ketchikan International Airport late Friday afternoon on a special government jet that bought along 14 members of his transportation committee, their spouses and some of the committee staff. They were on their way to see the controversial coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Prudhoe Bay, Kodiak and other parts of the state.
However, after the jet unloaded at Ketchikan, the visitors found they had no ferry service to Ketchikan. One of the two ferries still running had a mechanical malfunction. The congressional party waited at the airport almost two hours before they could get across. During that time they chided Young about staging the malfunction to justify the bridge.
Young is the second of Alaska's three-member congressional delegation to be held up by the airport ferry. Several years ago, Sen. Ted Stevens, ranking Republican member and former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, arrived in Ketchikan just before he was to appear for luncheon speech. He was almost late because of the long line waiting to board the ferry. Then a sympathetic Ketchikan citizen allowed him to go to the head of the line of cars waiting to board. A ferry deckhand rudely took exception to such action but allowed it to go ahead.
When Stevens got to the luncheon meeting, he took the first few minutes of his speech to unwind that famous Stevens temper, ending with a pledge to get some money for a bridge. He did come through with $20 million in a special appropriation to start the studies and engineering.
State Rep. Bill Williams, R-Ketchikan, also authorized a second $20 million in this year's state capital budget for the bridge project. He says that the state Department of Transportation is working on a preliminary draft of an environmental impact statement for the project and expects to have a recommended site for the bridge announced in October. Then will be the time for Ketchikan residents, through the borough assembly, to endorse that pick or select another one. By January, when the next legislative session opens, DOT expects to have the agreed upon route and be able to start the draft environmental impact statement for that route. It will take the rest of next year to work toward the final EIS and record of decision, complete engineering and permitting, so that construction can start the earliest in late 2002.
Then we are sure, Williams, state DOT and Ketchikan residents will be happy to tell Congressman Young that $40 million is in the pot -minus EIS and engineering costs - and that much more is needed. We bet that Young finds it right after he wins re-election in November of 2002.
Young said he traveled to Europe recently and traveled between and Demark and Sweden through a tunnel and over a bridge that was built in three years. State DOT has been studying Ketchikan's crossing more than twice that long and needs more than another year before construction starts.
Young says that when he was head of the House Resources Committee that he had oversight on God's work. Now, as chairman of the Transportation Committee - which covers highway, airports, harbors, buildings and other federal facilities - he has oversight on man's work.
But he doesn't forget resources and neither does his his wife, Lu, or his longtime aide, Lloyd Jones, former state senator representing the Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka district. They took members of the congressional party fishing the Saturday they were in town and everyone caught a salmon. The cohoes were so accommodating that one of the half dozen boats carrying the visitors landed 16 salmon, another 14.
Can Young get the funds for the bridge? Don't bet against the man who helped get authorization for drilling in ANWR through the House in the president's energy plan. There are more than a few House members, Democrats as well as Republicans, who need approval for transportation projects in their districts, projects that employ many union workers. And the unions want ANWR for jobs.
The ANWR problem now is on the desks of Sens. Stevens' and Frank Murkowski's. Both are in the state during this August congressional recess.
As long was Young also has oversight on federal buildings, he might be able to help Ketchikan further. Ketchikan Gateway Borough administration is looking for a new building for borough staff. The old Reid Building on Front Street, next to City Hall, has been ruled unsafe.
We suggest that borough leaders ask our congressional delegation to urge the federal government to declare the Ketchikan federal building surplus. After all, the Forest Service, the main occupant, has no need for all of the five-story building, not with its Bar Harbor property and its visitor center. The Forest Service staff has been going through dramatic reductions as the Clinton-Gore administration killed off southeast Alaska's timber industry. Soon they will be able to run all Forest Service Alaska programs out of the Juneau regional office. Juneau will need the economic boost after the state capital completes its move to Southcentral.
There is enough space in the Ketchikan federal building to house borough, city and school board offices. If declared surplus, local government would have a priority in applying for the building and a couple of million dollars for fixing it up. There is enough room for two much larger meetings than the local governments host today. And there is parking.
What happens to the Reid Building on Front Street now housing borough offices? Any sharp real estate agent will advertise it successfully as "a great fixer-upper."