Can you say “Boondoggle?” Can you say “Dead Wild Salmon” or “Corporate Influence in Alaska politics”? Well, you might have to learn, or start speaking out. On the bright side, we can all say “Support our Troops” - and at the end of this newsletter you’ll see a great volunteer opportunity to do just that.
But First, Glass Recycling Redux -
Good News and A Mistake.
Can you say “mistake”? I can. Remember those glass recycling e-mails I sent? Well, I erred in an early e-mail saying you could recycle at Target’s outside bins. They ask that you use their indoor bins, and their staff will then periodically dump those bins into their bigger outside ones. We’ve also written the Department of Transportation to encourage them to use crushed glass for subsurface roadbed, to help create a demand for recycled glass, which might help make a citywide glass recycling effort economic (they can sell their glass for road projects). ALPAR and DOT have been working on this, and we have asked DOT to work with potential recycling groups to make this project happen.
Trading Wild Alaska Salmon for Chinese Coal
This state has a responsible mining history, which the Parnell Administration is threatening to change for the worse. Unless you think it’s OK to dredge and remove 11 miles of silver and king salmon streambed so an outside company can ship coal to China. That’s what the state has done - given another level of approval for the permitting process for coal to be sent to China, from the Chuitna Riverbed and surrounding area. While our Commissioner of Natural Resources, Dan Sullivan, says no worries - the Middle Fork of that stream can be restored in 25 years - most fishing organizations that have chimed in oppose this project for obvious reasons, as does the Village of Tyonek.
Remember when the Governor promised he’d never trade one resource for another? Well….. HERE is a recent Daily News Article on the state’s rejection of a petition that would have protected wild Alaska salmon. More permits and debate will be needed for this project to move forward, but China coal won a big victory over Alaska salmon this week.
This mine echoes the debate on a proposal to build North America’s largest surface strip mine - Pebble. They say it can be built at the headwaters of the greatest salmon and trout fishing waters in the world; and that the toxic sludge will never find its way into those waters. Nah - there are never earthquakes or frost heaves in this state that would breach a toxic sludge dam. Governor Parnell hasn’t opposed that project either, though his Commissioner could easily rule that the danger to this area far exceeds the benefit. He’s taken the position that a permitting process, with “clean” water rules that were vastly weakened by the Murkowski Administration in 2004, should decide the issue (I’ve tried to reverse those rules allowing pollution and destruction of salmon and trout waters). That’s because he knows his Commissioner will grant the permit under those weakened rules.
Boondoggle or Needed Project:
The “Privately” - Ha! - “Owned” Knik Arm Bridge,
and the State’s Potential $Billion(s?) In Liability
Few of us are big fans of socialism - despite shrill claims from those who try to mislabel their political opponents. Ah, but then there’s corporate socialism - which some see as, uh, better? That’s what’s going on with the Knik Arm Bridge. Can you say Delta Barley Farm? Can you say possible Boondoggle? Can you say project that uses funds that would be better spent lowering highway fatalities on the Parks and Seward Highways?
Here are a few facts you may not know about the Knik Arm Bridge, which promoters originally said would be paid for by a private contractor without public funds, but that now leaves the state on the hook for potentially more than $1 billion in subsidies and liabilities. So what happened? The Governor and Mayor have moved that project up as a priority in what’s called the “Metropolitan Transportation Plan.” And there is a bill in the Legislature that would give a private contractor a $150,000,000 subsidy to help build it. And the bill would guarantee that if tolls are insufficient to make payments on the private debt used to fund the construction of a barely traveled bridge will use (driving the existing Glenn Highway to Palmer and Wasilla is faster than the bridge would be - despite the common myth to the contrary), the state will provide the private company a bailout by paying the difference.
I could support a privately built bridge under the right circumstances. But not one that promoters designed to go right through the oldest neighborhood in Anchorage - Government Hill. The plan is to bulldoze businesses and homes and build a tunnel through that neighborhood, so that drivers can make the trip from downtown to the bridge starting point. And then the plan is to build a new approach from Ingra Street. And then the plan is to widen a two lane bridge to four, with a possible railway level. And a few toll payments by the miniscule number of people who will drive to the Knik area will pay for that? Oh - and the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) is subtly threatening people with eminent domain takings right now. Millions of dollars’ worth of business and home purchase offers are being made by the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, which was given the power of eminent domain (against my vote). I can’t support that bridge. They’re not “saying” eminent domain, but the people they are approaching to get to sell their homes and businesses know that power is out there. You will pay a lot for this project to ensure private company profits.
How much? Well, 10 years ago the state estimated the project at $1 billion, plus the needed approach roads. The KABATA folks now claim they can build it for $600 million. Right. With the approach roads, tunnel and related infrastructure, they project the total cost to be about $1 billion, according to their low-ball estimates.
And how do they say the private company will run this bridge? Through tolls. With ginned up numbers. Despite the fact that a state Department of Labor study predicts population growth in the Valley to grow from roughly 90,000 people today to 137,000 people (most of whom will live in Wasilla and Palmer and not use the bridge); KABATA uses what appears to be a population estimate of 250,000 by 2030. They are unclear about that in their paperwork. And they assume that between 2012 and 2030 each household will use the bridge twice as much as they do in 2012. It’s not clear what population numbers they are using, and it’s not clear whether they are factoring in trips that will never be taken - by people who can drive home faster, for free, to Palmer and Wasilla on the Glenn Highway.
By the way, when they promoted the Whittier Tunnel, backers claimed roughly 900,000 trips would occur annually. The actual number is closer to 450,000 trips. The state’s annual subsidy has been more than $2 million - much of which covers the toll shortfall.
By putting this project in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, the City and State will fund fewer Anchorage area projects with federal money. State money will be needed for necessary local road projects. That will lessen the likelihood that we ever increase our highways from Girdwood to Willow to four lanes - so that we can reduce the horrific road fatalities that occur on those roads that still have too many two-lane sections. There have been over 50 fatalities in the Portage to Talkeetna section of highway in the past five years. Subsidize the Knik Arm Crossing with hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars - we don’t know how much yet - and we’ll be trading this for a useful road fatality solution.
Corporate Influence in Politics: Fake Legislator “Report Cards” Coming Out
I didn’t run for office to get graded on my pledge to corporate allegiance. My job is to represent you, not the shareholders of corporations. Sometimes state and corporate interests are similar. Sometimes corporate interests are contrary to your interests.
When I was first elected the Chamber of Commerce put out a legislator report card. Just in case you can’t guess, Exxon, British Petroleum and Conoco are that group’s biggest donors, and folks don’t tend to bite the hand that feeds them. The “report card” was embarrassing.
On that early “report card,” If you voted to allow lobbyists to donate more money to more candidates - a bill proposed by now-convicted felon Bill Allen of VECO - you got a good mark.
If you wanted to double the amount wealthy donors could give to legislators, you got a good mark.
If you gutted a public initiative, so that the minimum wage would not go up with inflation, you got a good mark.
I can’t recall for sure - but I think you also got a good mark if you voted for that coal bed methane bill that let private companies drill in the backyards of private residents, without their permission.
If you supported the public interest on these issues, you got a D or an F. They do this stuff to pressure legislators to vote for corporate interests over the public interest.
Well, they’re doing it again. Along with oil industry and mining companies (The “Resource Development Council” and “The Alliance”), the Chamber has produced another “report card” - which, as it usually does, slams Democrats and moderate Republicans. Despite what these groups say - if you supported the Governor’s $1.8 billion per year oil tax rollback, you got a good grade. If you didn’t, you got a bad grade. They claimed to rank us on a number of other vague things. Like “leadership”. Surprise. If you voted to give away our money for no new promised investment, I guess you were a good leader.
If they selected issues that matter, I feel confident my grade would have been a strong one.
I’ve promoted oil development by trying to convince the federal government to let Conoco’s NPR-A oil development project to go ahead. A Department of Interior official told me our letter was helpful in showing this development had support from the public - as Alaska needs to increase oil development on the North Slope.
I’ve supported an oil tax change that would actually work, and not just send $1.8 billion a year out of Alaska to company executives and shareholders as the Governor’s bill does. Under his bill, if a company only does what it was going to do anyway under current law, in terms of production and development, they get those tax breaks. And Exxon and BP say they won’t do any new exploration in new areas if the bill passes - but they’ll reap billions in tax breaks for doing nothing more than they planned anyway. I’ve filed legislation to require jobs and Alaska investment - tax credits if you explore in new areas; and if you build processing facilities to put new oil into the pipeline. So - I got punished for pushing a proposal that would land us jobs. Others were rewarded from taking the oil company position that we should give them tax breaks without requiring additional Alaska investment.
And I’ve fought for financial aid for those who want to get into the job market with job training or college. I’ve fought for better schools, and through that, a better workforce. I’ve supported responsible mining, like the Red Dog Mine - but not the two recent proposals that threaten to kill major populations of fish.
Corporations get to promote their members’ interests. But my job is to promote yours.
Now the Good News: Supporting Our Troops: Stockings For Alaskan Troops Annual Drive
Each year holiday stockings are assembled and distributed to service members serving worldwide. This event is made possible solely through the donations of businesses, individuals and organizations. If you’d like to participate, donations of the following items would be greatly welcomed:
- individual serving food items
- single servings packets of drink mix (like the ones made by Crystal Light or Kool-Aid)
- gum and breath mints
- dental hygiene items
- entertainment items (paperback books, DVDs, playing cards)
- foot powder
- toiletries (small sized)
- small stocking stuffers
- individual notes or cards thanking service members
For more information regarding the donations please contact Colette Moring at email@example.com or 907-278-3584. If you know someone who is expected to be deployed during the holiday season and would be interested in having a stocking sent to them, please provide their name, address and email. Also - if you feel like helping assemble the items, Colette might need help with that too. Just let her know.
As always, call if you have any questions or concerns.