SE leaders to meet in B.C.

Transportation at the top of the agenda for Southeast Conference

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

Transportation and electricity will be among the big topics discussed when government and business leaders from around Southeast meet this week in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

And Juneau's civic leaders will be there in force to listen to concerns from other Southeast communities, in the face of a possible state ballot measure in 2002 to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"It's a great opportunity for people in Juneau to listen carefully to the needs of our neighbors who live in Southeast communities," said Southeast Conference President Rosemary Hagevig of Juneau. "We have to make their issues our issues and vice versa."

Juneau Mayor Sally Smith said seven members of the Juneau Assembly will attend the meeting of the Southeast Conference.

"We're going because we think it's really important to have a presence in Southeast Alaska," Smith said, "particularly with the Southeast Conference, where we're discussing issues that are mutually important, if not directly, then by extension."

About 150 people are expected to attend the Southeast Conference's membership conference and annual meeting Tuesday to Thursday. The conference is a nonprofit organization of businesses, municipalities, other nonprofit groups and individuals. Prince Rupert is one of the members.

"Front and center, obviously, are transportation issues," said Southeast Conference Executive Director Loren Gerhard. "A lot of changes (are) in the offing here, and a lot of concerns around the region, especially as we get our hands around the fiscal issues our marine highway system are facing."

There's significant interest in finding ways to get stable funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System, Hagevig said. "We'll see probably some good ideas emerge from people all over the region."

The conference will look at the state's Southeast transportation plan as it affects methods of transportation such as airlines, air taxis and barge lines.

"We really have not looked at it in a broader context," Hagevig said.

The Southeast Conference also expects to present members with a draft plan for creating an entity to operate a Southeast electrical intertie, Gerhard said.

The intertie is a long-range, multi-phase power project intended to connect the region's communities. Congress has authorized up to $384 million with a 20 percent local match. Federal money will have to be appropriated separately.

Other topics at the conference include forest and fisheries issues such as the status of litigation concerning the Tongass National Forest land management plan, new rules about federal timber receipts that go to communities, and a federally funded program to mitigate the effects of the U.S.-Canada salmon treaty.

Conferees also will hear from consultants, agencies and others who have helped communities develop tourism plans, Gerhard said, with the idea of helping "to inform some of the smaller communities that are looking at tourism how to get out in front of it rather than let it happen to them."

The Southeast Conference of Mayors also will meet Wednesday in Prince Rupert.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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