Homeland Security rejects Murkowski jet

Federal government gives three reasons why it denied $2 million request

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2004

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rejected a request by Alaska officials to purchase a jet with federal homeland security funds, saying the state failed to meet the required parameters.

"In this case, no means no," Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske said Wednesday evening. "It's a dead issue now. We may not agree with the premise for the denial, but we accept it."

Tandeske's office wanted to use $2 million - the state's portion of homeland security funds - to buy a used jet to respond to emergencies, as well as transport Gov. Frank Murkowski, other government personnel and prisoners.

The plane would have replaced one of two aging propeller-driven planes.

Three reasons were cited for the denial in an Aug. 19 letter signed by C. Suzanne Mender, director of the federal agency's Office for Domestic Preparedness.

The jet wouldn't be able to land on most of the rural airstrips around the state, while the older turboprop can, the letter said.

"While the proposed aircraft will reduce response time throughout Alaska, based on the response you submitted, we do not believe that the platform chosen is an efficient and effective aircraft for Homeland Security purposes," Mender wrote.

In addition, the jet would not be equipped with terrorism prevention equipment, such as specialized navigational systems. And such funds cannot be used to buy aircraft to transport the governor and others as proposed.

Tandeske said the denial was made - at least in part - because of a lack of understanding of Alaska.

The plane to be replaced also can't access most of the short rural airstrips, according to Tandeske. State officials solved that problem by landing the plane at larger hub communities and continuing to villages in smaller planes. That same strategy would have worked for the jet, Tandeske said.

"The difference between our needs in Alaska and aviation needs in other states are not the same - we're like five states in one," he said. "No other state relies on aviation like we do."

Murkowski had said that using the funds would enhance emergency response. And the governor's aides said it would save the state maintenance costs to replace one of the old planes.

Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg referred questions to Tandeske.

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