State reduces staff at Dalton Highway checkpoint

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- State public safety officials on Friday ceased 24-hour operation of the Dalton Highway security checkpoint, citing uncertainty over whether the Legislature will pay the bill.

The Department of Public Safety scaled back operations to 12 hours a day, at random times, at the checkpoint put in place just south of the Yukon River Bridge in an effort to provide increased security for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline after terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

The entire checkpoint will be scrapped April 5 unless legislators make their intentions known, according to Public Safety Commissioner Glen Godfrey in a letter to key lawmakers Feb. 22.

''In the absence of action on the supplemental request or other indication of the Legislature's intent to fund the costs of continuing the checkpoint throughout the rest of this year, our only realistic alternative is to phase out the extra security effort,'' he wrote.

The supplemental request is for about $360,000 to cover what the department will have spent on the checkpoint through April 5.

''The reason for the letter is to say, 'Listen folks, we've been doing this and already run up this amount of money,''' Deputy Commissioner Del Smith said. ''If you're not going to act favorably on it, we need to know that right now.''

Smith said Friday that the department has not received a reply from legislators.

The $360,000 request for the checkpoint is a small part of a bill in which the governor proposes to spend $37.5 million in state general funds to help pay for his homeland security plan.

The request contains items that range from adding Village Public Safety officers to improving the state's emergency communication system. So far the measure has spent the legislative session in the House Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs.

''We're going to move (the bill) out but not until we have questions answered on some of the cost estimates that we have in the appropriation,'' said committee Chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. ''I feel that we need to scrutinize it.''

Chenault noted that the state faces a billion-dollar budget shortfall.

''We can only do what we can with the resources that we have,'' he said.

Chenault said he would wait to see how the budget leaders respond to the Department of Public Safety letter before he did so.

The letter sent to the Senate was addressed to Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the Finance Committee.

Donley on Thursday brushed off questions about the week-old letter. ''It's going to be up to the committee,'' he said before stepping on a Capitol elevator.

Public safety officials also hope legislators will state their intentions for funding the checkpoint past June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The department proposes to replace the checkpoint July 1 with a full Dalton Highway post of the Alaska State Troopers, meaning six full-time patrol troopers.

On Friday the checkpoint staffing was halved to one trooper and two Alaska Defense Force members.

After April 5, it could be scrapped, although a single trooper would still operate from a nearby pump station.

So far almost 9,000 commercial vehicles and 774 private vehicles have been stopped at the checkpoint.

Smith said the checkpoint allows Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. to concentrate its security elsewhere and lets the state know who is driving to the vulnerable Yukon River crossing and points north.



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