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EPA administrator plans visits to rural Alaska

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Christine Todd Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, plans reviews of rural water and sewer needs while in Alaska for the next five days.

Whitman will visit Bethel and the nearby village of Napaskiak.

About half the federal money for village water and sewer projects in Alaska has passed through the EPA in recent years. Many communities in the flat, wet region around Bethel have trouble disposing of sewage and finding clean water.

Whitman also is coming to Alaska to participate in the Kenai River Classic, a fishing tournament fund-raiser for salmon habitat work co-hosted by Sen. Ted Stevens and Gov. Tony Knowles.

After delivering an evening banquet speech Friday, Whitman will travel Saturday to Denali National Park. Park Service officials will talk with Whitman about air quality and power plants in nearby Healy and about pollution from the Red Dog mine near Kotzebue. The Park Service manages land near the mine.

Whitman will fly to Bethel on Sunday, EPA spokeswoman Tina Kreisher told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Whitman will meet with representatives of the city of Bethel, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., the Orutsaramiut Tribal Council and the Association of Village Council Presidents.

AVCP is the regional nonprofit Native corporation responsible for health services.

After the meetings, Whitman will take a riverboat trip to Napaskiak, a village of 390 six miles down the Kuskokwim River from Bethel.

Kreisher said Whitman's agenda was largely set by Stevens and Knowles.

''I think she just kind of accepted requests from the senator and governor for things they wanted to do,'' Kreisher said.

On the trip to Bethel and Napaskiak, Whitman will be accompanied by Michele Brown, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The goal is to look at the challenge of providing water and sewer service, said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.

''This is a good opportunity to see the conditions in rural Alaska and what has been done,'' he said.

Stevens last summer earmarked about $30 million in the EPA budget to build water and sewer projects in rural Alaska in the current fiscal year. The federal total was about $70 million.

EPA's recent decisions on arsenic in drinking water, power plant emissions, substandard fuel tanks and sulfur content in diesel fuel also have drawn interest from businesses, environmentalists and public officials in Alaska.

In addition, Alaska's congressional delegation and Knowles want the federal government to form a new Alaska region within the EPA. The state is in EPA Region 10, headquartered in Seattle.

Whitman on Monday plans to speak in Anchorage at a Resource Development Council breakfast meeting. The group largely consists of business and community leaders.

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