Two groups mobilize over airport prop

Supporters say expansion is needed to bring in another airline, keep the Capitol

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2005

Among all the projects on Proposition 1, the airport expansion probably generates the least excitement among voters. But two groups were recently organized to change that.

Several members on the Alaska Committee organized the Citizens for Capital Improvements to educate voters why they should support renewing the optional 1 percent sales tax for three years to expand the airport.

"Improving the airport is a good way for Juneau to demonstrate its commitment to being a capital city," said Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee. "The airport is our lifeline."

Members of the Juneau Airport Board established the Alaskans for an Improved Juneau Airport group for the same purpose.

"The airport was last remodeled in 1984," said Gordon Evans, vice chairman of the Juneau Airport Board. "If we don't do something now, the present structure will continue to deteriorate."

Evans said the expansion is necessary if another airline carrier, other than Alaska Airlines, wants to come to Juneau.

"We don't have the space for another carrier at this point," Evans said. "It's almost a chicken-and-egg question. Which comes first? The space or the carrier? We think the space should come first."

But some people, including several Juneau Assembly candidates, said they cannot see why the project is urgent.

District 2 candidate Jonathan Anderson said the city should wait until another airline comes to Juneau.

At-large candidate Mara Early said she isn't sure whether the expansion is a need or a want.

Assembly candidates David Summers, Bob Doll, Andrew Green, Merrill Sanford all consider the project important.

"Juneau is a central hub for all Southeast Alaska," said Green, port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska. "We have to make sure we have an adequate airport."

The airport project calls for adding a second baggage claim carousel, improving concessions space beyond security screening, building a multi-story parking garage, renovating the east wing of the terminal and rebuilding the north wing.

The total project costs about $76 million.

Airport officials expect that the Federal Aviation Administration would cover $27 million, passenger facility charges $3 million and general airport revenue bonds $8 million. Officials haven't identified sources for the remaining $18 million.

Amanda Tobin, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, said the airline has no position on the tax proposal but it does believe the airport expansion would provide additional benefits to passengers.

"However, we recognize these projects would come at a cost, potentially to both taxpayers and the airline," Tobin said. "The cost of the projects would be taken into consideration."

Patricia deLaBruere, the airport's business manager, said if the project doesn't receive enough funding, the city would have to scale it down and delay building the parking garage.

Airport Manager Allan Heese said many people are unaware that the airport needs work because they don't see the leaking roofs and rotting pipes.

"We deal with these problems on a daily basis," Heese said. "Many people don't see these problems because they don't stay at the airport for a long time."

Former Juneau Assembly member Jeannie Johnson, who served on the Airport Board for four years, said the sales tax funding would bring federal funding.

"Every sales tax dollar will be leveraged to generate roughly an additional $2 in federal and other funding for this project," Johnson said. "Once we get the sales tax, we can move ahead with the project."

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