Palin questions road, may cancel deal

Governor responds to inquiry about MacKinnon land at end of roadway

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday she may cancel the contract for the contentious access road north of Juneau.

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She questioned the process the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has followed in pushing forward the 23-mile gravel "pioneer" road, which would be the first step in building a longer road north. Palin spoke at an Anchorage press conference Wednesday.

"If we want to get a road, and the governor wants a road, we are going to do it the right way and this is not the right way," the governor's press secretary, Meghan Stapleton, said in a telephone interview.

"We need to go back and look at the process and that may mean to cancel the contract."

The department had not yet heard Palin's comments from the press conference by Wednesday evening, but department spokesman Mike Chambers said "the governor would obviously be the person to take direction from and we are just sitting here and happy to take whatever direction she provides us."

The press conference was held so Palin could announce five new commissioner appointments.

Palin discussed the road while responding to a reporter's question about a Wednesday story in the Juneau Empire about the acting transportation commissioner's family mining property, which lies at the end of the proposed road and from which the family could profit substantially.

The official, John MacKinnon, has officially recused himself from decisions on the project.

The pioneer road is budgeted to cost the state $45 million. The unusual bidding process prompted a legal challenge from a contractor who was outbid.

Department officials accelerated the process by declaring it an "emergency," a term often used in case of disaster. The road cannot be built until U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits are in hand.

During an interview Monday, Southeast Region Director Mal Menzies said an emergency declaration was necessary to ensure the construction company hired would be ready to proceed immediately once permits are granted.

There is a narrow time window for construction in the Berners Bay area because of wildlife concerns.

Palin has not yet announced her selection for the Department of Transportation commissioner, and Stapleton said the governor did not know when that could be expected.

"She did say that there are many candidates that she is looking at," the spokeswoman said.

"DOT is on the list and she is going through the list. There is no immediate timeline because we are going through exactly what happened (with the process to award the pioneer road contract)."

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