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ANCHORAGE - Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative Tuesday that would open avenues for a state-owned natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.
For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, the measure was winning by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.
Scott Heyworth, an Anchorage longshoreman and chief sponsor of the measure, said he spent no money to spread his message that Alaskans have waited too long for big oil to build a pipeline.
"We're just cracking the nonalcoholic bubbly," Heyworth said as he headed to Election Central at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena in a rented 18-foot white limousine.
"This represents the will of the Alaskan people to develop our own resources," Heyworth said.
The "All-Alaskan Gasline Initiative" would establish the office of Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority under the state Department of Revenue. The new agency would be responsible for building the pipeline, issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds to pay the estimated $12.4 billion cost of the project.
The goal is to have the pipeline in full production by 2007. Heyworth estimates the project would employ about 13,000 Alaskans initially.
State and industry officials opposed the proposal, saying it would detract from state and federal efforts to entice producers into building a natural gas pipeline to sell to Lower 48 markets.
Critics argued the measure would create financial troubles for the state for years.
Larry Houle, general manager for The Alliance, a trade group of oil and gas companies, said voters probably thought the project is the much-discussed natural gas pipeline planned to follow the Alaska Highway to Canadian and Lower-48 markets. Houle was not surprised at the initiative's performance even though $40,000 was spent to defeat it.
"It had very deceptive language on a very complicated issue," he said. "I think voters were caught up in gasline fever."
Houle said Alliance members don't believe the Legislature will fund the project.
"And if it looks like legislators might fund it, we'll be there trying to educate them on what this thing really is," he said.
Heyworth rejected the Alliance argument about voter confusion.
In a separate measure, voters Tuesday rejected by a huge margin the idea of holding a constitutional convention. Just 28 percent of voters favored the idea. The question appears on the ballot every 10 years.