Three jobs fall to state budget ax

Ninilchik DOT station to close

Posted: Friday, May 24, 2002

The results of the 22nd Alaska legislative session have already begun to hit home.

Wednesday, the Alaska Depart-ment of Transportation and Public Facilities announced the Ninilchik maintenance station will close.

The revelation came as a surprise to Ninilchik station Foreman Ray Newton, who had worked for DOT for nearly 16 years and had been stationed in Ninilchik since 1989.

"I was flabbergasted," he said. "We found out (Wednesday) morning that it was definitely being shut down."

Newton said peninsula district Superintendent Carl High drove from Soldotna to Ninilchik to deliver the news personally.

High said he didn't like having to be the bearer of bad news.

"It was a pretty tough deal," he said, referring to the layoffs of the three station staffers. "They're out of a job by no fault of their own. Their positions will go away July 1."

With those positions go two brand new combination blower-sander dump trucks and a brand new grader. The equipment, along with the money budgeted to operate the station, will be used elsewhere.

In addition to the three Ninilchik equipment operator positions, Homer will lose two operators.

Other results of the cut include: elimination of maintenance at off-road airports, including Ninilchik, Kasilof, Quartz Creek and Lawing air fields; loss of one of the graders from the Soldotna maintenance shop; a reduction in supplies and materials to the North Kenai maintenance station; and a trimming of Soldotna janitorial service hours.

High said the Legislature's inability to come up with a workable fiscal plan for the state led to the DOT cuts.

"This is all a direct result of the Legislature," he said. "They had a job to do and they didn't do it."

High said the lost station will cause safety problems.

"It's going to create unsafe conditions because of lack of maintenance," High said. "We'll have to leave with a grader out of Soldotna to get to (Ninilchik). If you have to road one of those things, it takes three and-a-half hours to get there.

"We're going to shift all the boundaries in the peninsula and everybody's going to have to take a bigger area. There are going to be literally days before getting to our secondary roads."

Those secondary roads, Newton said, stretch between Mile 114.5 and 156.6 of the Sterling Highway and include Clam Gulch Beach Access Road, Old Sterling Loop and Deep Creek Road.

High said the staff could get a break until the end of the summer or even longer, with jobs for federal projects that will have operators sealing cracks on the highways. He said those projects have, over time, effectively saved summer employment and eased spending from the general fund.

"If it wasn't for the federal money to do some of this stuff, we wouldn't have money to plow snow in the winter," High said. "With these fed projects, we're hoping we can keep (staff) going at least into September."

Newton said he needed just five and a half years before he could retire. But after September, and possibly even early October, he said he will have to either keep his eyes peeled for new opportunity or his hopes up for a chance to return to DOT.

"The only thing I know is try to get out there and find another job," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to get back with the state."

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