My Turn: Governor responds to Ketchikan bridge critic

Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006

It is truly amazing how far south the Juneau Empire will reach to find someone against a proposal by this administration. The Oct. 10 "My Turn" from Don Hoff Jr., of Hixson, Tenn., opposing the Gravina access bridge is a classic example.

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Hixson, Tenn., is a suburb of Chattanooga. It has two interstate highways that intersect near it, along with dozens of federal and state highways. Mr. Hoff clearly has no access problems where he now lives. Too bad that Mr. Hoff shows little concern for the access problems faced by the folks who live in Ketchikan.

This administration has been working to provide access between Ketchikan and its airport for the past four years. Contrary to popular assertions, this access is not just for the few "wealthy," or even for the 50 people who live on Gravina, but for the 13,000 people who call Ketchikan home. It is also for the million or so visitors who come to Ketchikan every year. It is also about a place for Ketchikan to expand with more affordable housing for young families.

Here are the facts regarding the defunct gold mining plot on Gravina Island, in which my wife holds a one-quarter share. It was purchased by her father in 1938, and at his death, it was passed to Nancy, her sister and two brothers.

The 33-acre parcel - consisting mostly of muskeg, a flooded mine shaft and the remains of an old stamp mill - is valued by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough at $245,000. This is an amazing figure, considering the property has no services, no power, no water, no sewer, no garbage or fire service. It is several miles away from any of the roads associated with the bridge project, which does not include any plans to provide access south on Gravina Island.

The $195 million this administration will recommend to be included in the fiscal year 2008 budget for the Ketchikan bridge is the remainder of what will be needed to fund it. The estimate for the F-1, two-high-bridge alternative totals $328 million and the project currently has $133 million appropriated to it. It will be up to the incoming governor, working with the Ketchikan delegation in the Legislature, to secure the $195 million, whether through general funds, bonds or some other funding mechanism.

Considering the recent national uproar over congressional earmarks, it is not realistic to expect further federal funding for the project. In fact, it was unfortunate how the Alaska bridge earmarks were mischaracterized by the national press. The majority of the funds (66 percent or two-thirds) in question were from Alaska's normal share of the federal highway formula. They just happened to be earmarked for the projects by Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Thus, this bridge is being built largely with funds that would have come to the state as a matter of law and not new, "pork-barrel" money being pilfered out of other states' shares of highway dollars.

Regarding Native graves, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has designed the project to avoid having any effect on identified historical archaeological sites, including tribal grave sites on Pennock Island. DOT&PF consultants have met with representatives of the Organized Village of Saxman, the Ketchikan Indian Corporation Tribal Council, Metlakatla Indian Community, Cape Fox Corp., and the Office of History and Archaeology on this issue, and we recognize the importance and sacred nature of any such sites.

I will admit that Mr. Hoff and I agree on one issue, and that is in regard to the logic of using an underwater tunnel or tube. I have advocated that option, for all the obvious reasons. An underwater tube was one of the alternatives considered before the environmental impact statement process began. Nevertheless, to now consider a tube in lieu of the F-1 preferred alternative would require two more years of process to change the EIS.

On Sept. 29, I met with about two dozen elected and civic leaders in Ketchikan, who reaffirmed their commitment to moving forward on the F-1 preferred alternative, even in the face of the high cost and the difficult legislative battle to come.

My hope continues to be that everyone who lives in or comes to Ketchikan will be able to drive from its airport to town, including Mr. Hoff, if he chooses to visit Ketchikan sometime in the next few years.

• Frank H. Murkowski is the governor of Alaska.



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