Mat-Su voters to decide on dock extension bond

Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2003

PALMER (AP) Voters will be asked to decide whether $10 million in bonds should be issued for a dock extension at the port at Point MacKenzie.

Members of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly voted unanimously Thursday to put the bond on the Oct. 7 ballot.

''This is a very important vote in the future of the borough,'' said Assemblyman Bruce Bush.

Extending the dock will allow the port to accommodate deeper draft ships. The project hinges on a partnership with NPI LLC, a timber firm that hopes to begin shipping wood chips from Mat-Su and Copper River forests to Asian markets, primarily China, by late next summer.

The Assembly also agreed to accept $3 million from NPI to buy dock-building materials that take months to ship; the agreement will be canceled if the bond fails.

They also approved an agreement that gives NPI the exclusive right to move specific bulk commodities such as wood chips and gravel across the dock using an $8 million conveyor the company will construct.

The plan calls for the borough to build the expansion using as much as $10 million in bonds, to be reimbursed by the state. But the state's role is not guaranteed: the Legislature would decide annually whether to pay back the borough's share, and could reject the dock payment.

Last week, the state attorney general's office rejected the borough's original plan to market revenue bonds, to be repaid with port income if state reimbursement didn't materialize. The borough planned to secure the financing by putting up borough headquarters in Palmer as collateral.

Instead, state attorneys said, the borough would have to issue taxpayer-backed general obligation bonds and allow voters to decide if they wanted to assume the responsibility of repaying the bonds if the state doesn't.

Several elected officials voiced similar concerns.

''This is a big enough project in this borough that we have to give people a chance to have a vote on it,'' Borough Mayor Tim Anderson said.

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