Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2005

Governor stands by Gravina, Knik bridges

JUNEAU - Both the Gravina Island and Knik Arm bridges, two projects that have come to symbolize federal pork spending, should be built if Congress gives the state the money and flexibility to do it, Gov. Frank Murkowski said Thursday.

But some state lawmakers see as a possible scenario that one or both bridges may lose out in a competition with other state highway priorities.

A congressional conference committee plans to strip the earmarks from Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge project and Anchorage's Knik Arm crossing, but will send the money - now authorized at more than $450 million - to the state.

That means the future of the two projects that have stirred public protest nationwide will be left to the governor and the state Legislature to decide.

Murkowski said a lot won't be known until the final transportation appropriations bill is released, such as how much is coming to the state and how the state will be able to use that money.

Murkowski acknowledged there would be a shortfall in funding ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars if both projects were to go ahead.

"I support both and the question is, can we fund both?" he said.

Some legislators suspect the answer is no. If that's the case, supporters of the two projects could find themselves in competition with each other.

"If the possibility for political competition occurs, it will happen," said Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage. "Therefore, the projects will be judged on (their) merits."

Friday marks Barrow's last sunset of year

BARROW - The nation's northernmost town braces today for its last sundown of the year.

Barrow residents say they tend to sleep more during the long months of round-the-clock dark. The sun sets in Barrow today at 1:40 p.m. and doesn't rise again until Jan. 23 at 1:01 p.m.

Diana Martin is an Inupiat Eskimo and a lifelong Barrow resident. She says it's much easier to start the day when Barrow receives round-the-clock daylight in summer.

But other than sleeping in a bit longer, Martin says school and community events go on as usual despite winter darkness.

Premier says AK gas line not 'competition'

ANCHORAGE - The premier of Canada's Northwest Territories said public hearings on a Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline could begin as soon as January, inching the $8 billion construction project closer to a 2008 start date.

Premier Joseph Handley said Thursday he hoped negotiations with Imperial Gas, one of several companies interested in the line, could be concluded within the next few days.

"Work is progressing well," Handley said. "It is clear that the economy of the Northwest Territories will be powered over the long term by the production of natural gas."

Handley has said the pipeline could be operating by 2010.

The Mackenzie line is not racing with Alaska's proposed $20 billion North Slope natural gas line, he said.

But he said that because Alaska's project is much larger, the Mackenzie line would "fall behind" if development were delayed.

"I know there's a connection in people's minds, but I don't see us as competitors," Handley said.

Like neighboring Alaska, the Northwest Territories has sought for decades to bring its natural gas to market.

Feds look at Hanford worker compensation

YAKIMA, Wash. - A federal institute has agreed to review workers' compensation benefits available to former weapons workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., requested the review last month, citing a recent audit at the south-central Washington site that found insufficient data about workers' radiation exposure between 1944 and 1968.

The lack of data could lead federal officials to underestimate workers' exposure, thereby making them ineligible for workers' compensation benefits, Cantwell said.

In a letter to Cantwell dated Nov. 4, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health said its advisory board is expected to discuss the audit's findings and evaluate benefits available to former Hanford workers at its January meeting.

"This is the right decision," Cantwell said in a written statement Thursday. "Right now, we don't know the full extent of workers' exposure to toxins. We need to review the situation to make sure all former Hanford employees get the help they need."

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