Legislators summarize recent session

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

The Kenai Peninsula delegation brought home tens of millions of dollars in capital projects, local legislators told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, said the Legislature approved close to $11 million in capital projects for District 8, which reaches from Soldotna to Seward. That includes $650,000 for roof repairs at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, $700,000 for an assisted living facility in Soldotna, $1 million to add a clarifier at the Soldotna waste-water treatment plant, $110,000 for a new Cooper Landing ambulance and $3.6 million in federal funds to rebuild the first eight miles of the Seward Highway.

The area-wide budget includes $4.6 million to build a Kenai youth detention center, $5.6 million to manage the impacts of wildfires and $5 million to refurbish the state ferry Tustumena.

The capital budget for District 7, which reaches from Seldovia to Kasilof, includes $3.5 million in federal funds to design and build facilities for the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Reserve, $620,000 to improve the beach access at Deep Creek, $60,000 for a new tanker for the Ninilchik Volunteer Fire Department, $100,000 for an ambulance for the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, $600,000 in federal funds for Phase 2 of the homer Spit pedestrian pathway, $500,000 in federal funds to rehabilitate the first 3.75 miles of Homer's East End Road and $472,000 to build senior apartments in Homer.

Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, said the Legislature budgeted more than $34 million for K-12 education and increased the foundation formula by $70 per student, about $14 million in total.

"We had quite a few areas in education that were starting to hemorrhage," he said.

The Legislature postponed requiring high school seniors to pass an exit exam to graduate until 2004 and upped the funding for learning opportunity grants from $6.1 million to $12.2 million -- mainly to help with exit exam procedures and help students who are failing, Torgerson said.

The Legislature passed several bills Torgerson sponsored, including:

n SB 137, which continues a program of grants for vocational education. AVTEC will receive $1 million this year and $1 million next.

n Senate Joint Resolution 2 and SJR 6 oppose inclusion of Alaska national forests in former President Clinton's roadless area conservation rule.

n SJR 7 asks President Bush to reinstate a directive against considering any more Bureau of Land Management land in Alaska for wilderness status in accordance with the "no more clause" of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Torgerson said several more of his bills still are before the Legislature.

n Senate Bill 59 would create a Municipal Road Projects Program to award up to $20 million in federal funds to municipalities for eligible road projects.

n SB 104 would provide financial aid to fire and ambulance departments that serve populations of less than 2,500 people.

n SB 141 would require the Department of Natural Resources to offer leases for 60 new sites for suspended shellfish farms, 20 new sites for clam farms and 10 new sites for geoduck farms.

n SB 148 would direct the Department of Natural Resources to install 10,000-gallon underground water tanks for fire protection in areas where water is not easily available.

The department would solicit and prioritize tank requests from organized fire service areas and install as many tanks as appropriations allow.

Lancaster said he also spent a lot of time on education funding.

Meanwhile, he began at loggerheads with Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, over the exit exam bill and provisions for disabled students, he said, but reached a compromise that satisfied many of his concerns.

He said he also differed with Bunde on use of tobacco settlement funds the state receives each year.

"It looks like now, there will be $8.1 million of that to go towards, if the governor signs the bill, go towards education and prevention rather than all going toward schools and what not," Lancaster said. "... Some of that money, being tobacco money, should go towards some education and prevention programs."

Several of Lancaster's bills also remain before the Legislature. Those include:

n A bill to instate a $10 fee to dipnet on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Lancaster said his primary motives are to gain some control over the dipnet fishery and to protect private property rights. The bill has been controversial, he said, but he still believes in it.

n Appropriations for power projects, including nearly $5 million for a Seldovia-Port Graham-Nanwalek regional power project.

n A bill to add close to 8,000 acres to the state park that includes much of the Kenai River. The purpose is to protect public access and habitat, he said.

Torgerson said he is working on a bill that would allow the Department of Natural Resources instead to sell the land, with restrictions yet to be defined, to private owners.

"All Parks does is lock up land forever," Torgerson said. "They don't have any management plan other than to build cabins or trails. It's not right to lock up this land without see what you can do and put restrictions on it.

"Cities do it all the time. It's called zoning."

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