State-owned natural gas line gets go-ahead

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

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.

With about 80 percent of the precincts reporting late Tuesday, the measure was winning by a margin of 3 to 2.

Two other ballot measures were losing by large margins.

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,'' an exuberant Heyworth said as he headed to Election Central at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena in a rented 18-foot white limousine.

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, worried that voters would think the project is the much-discussed natural gas pipeline. Houle was not surprised at the initiative's performance even though $40,000 was spent to defeat it.

''We expected it to pass. 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.

Heyworth rejected the Alliance argument about voter confusion.

''Voters definitely knew what they were voting for,'' he 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 initially employ about 13,000 Alaskans.

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.

Meanwhile, the latest proposal to move legislative sessions from Juneau was losing by a 2-to-1 margin.

It's an idea voters have faced in varying forms a half dozen times since statehood.

Last month, proponents said they had quit actively campaigning for the initiative even as anti-move ads blanketed much of the state.

Soon after, however, Uwe Kalenka, leader of Alaskans for Efficient Government, said the issue was hardly dead and predicted it would be back on the ballot in two years.

The measure sought to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in 2005, or to Anchorage if no suitable place could be found there.

It also would repeal the FRANK initiative, which requires a commission to study the cost of moving the capital or Legislature then put it before voters in an election.

Supporters said locating sessions near Alaska's road system would force legislators to be more accountable to constituents than they are from Juneau.

The Alaska Committee opposed the measure, emphasizing the issue of cost. The group successfully used the same strategy against the most recent capital move initiative back in 1994.

Voters Tuesday rejected by a 3-to-1 margin the idea of holding a constitutional convention.

The question has appeared every 10 years on the ballot, as required by the original framers of the Alaska Constitution.

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