Cash for Kake water faces Clinton veto

Village struggling to keep taps running

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Kake's water system and several other Southeast projects hang on a presidential signature.

The projects are part of a $23.6 billion energy and water package approved by the U.S. Senate on Monday. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, added $7 million to the bill to replace the dam in Kake. The dam broke in late July, leaving the Southeast Alaska town of 800 without a reliable water supply.

"This is good news for me, really good news," said Kake Mayor Lonnie Anderson when he heard Congress approved money for the dam. "That's certainly something we need here in Kake is to get adequate water. We've been fighting to get water here for the last 15 years."

The fight's not over. Shortly after the Senate voted for the energy and water package, President Clinton said he'll veto the measure because it doesn't include several environmental restoration projects he wanted.

The Senate fell 10 votes short of the 67 needed to overturn a Clinton veto, so the Republican-led Congress will have to negotiate with the Democratic administration to pass some form of the bill.

"I'm not jumping up and down until I get it in writing from D.C.," Anderson said.

While Kake waits for a permanent fix, a contractor is reinforcing the temporary water system to last the winter. New pumps recently were anchored into the river, with hard pipes replacing the plastic pipes the city has relied on since August. The city is spending about $800 a day for chemicals to purify the creek water, and more for the labor needed to keep the filters clear and pumps running, Anderson said.

"Since the dam broke we've been just about scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep water running, and labor and materials," Anderson said. "We will probably be broke by the time springtime comes."

The city is trying to cut corners in other areas and has been more aggressive about collecting bills, Anderson said.

"Just keep your fingers crossed and make sure that President Clinton signs the bill and I think I'll get a good night's sleep then," Anderson said.

Kake would also get $5.5 million from the bill for improvements to its boat harbor. The bill also includes $2 million to connect the Swan Lake/Tyee hydroelectric project to Ketchikan.

Some controversy has surrounded $2 million in the bill to help Sealaska Corp. build a plant that would convert wood waste into ethanol, a fuel additive that makes for cleaner air emissions. Sealaska is the regional Native corporation for Southeast.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, singled out the ethanol plant in a speech opposing the bill, calling it "among the worst pork in this bill."

"It is a blatant insult to taxpayers to ask them to supplement the ethanol industry even more by spending ... $2 million for the design and construction of a demonstration facility for regional biomass ethanol manufacturing in Southeast Alaska," he said.

Sealaska officials have said the plant would provide jobs for out-of-work Alaskans.

If signed, the energy and water bill will also pay for improvements to Petersburg's harbor and removal of a rock pinnacle in Wrangell Narrows. The measure also funds $700,000 of studies that could lead to further harbor improvements in Craig, Haines, Ketchikan, Skagway and Sitka.

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