Waiting for the seemingly imminent news about a possible contract for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope is like waiting for the season's first day of 40-below cold. We're told it's coming, but we won't believe it until it does.
... Just how much talking we'll get to do about a gas line contract is a key issue.
Gov. Frank Murkowski and his staff have an obligation, on a project of this scale and importance to the state, to go beyond the minimum 30-day requirement set out in state law. Many people have long questioned whether 30 days would be sufficient to ensure that Alaskans believe they have had enough time to grasp the material, and it appears that the governor shares this view.
In a meeting with the Daily News-Miner editorial board earlier this month, the governor indicated support for a 45-day public comment period. His gas line spokesman, Chuck Logsdon, in a subsequent interview, reiterated the administration's desire for something greater than 30 days and said the comment period might also include a series of informational meetings around the state at which the public could question officials about the contract.
Having an extended comment period and a series of meetings are proposals that will benefit Alaskans, and the governor deserves some praise for being open to efforts to assist the public's understanding of a gas line agreement as much as possible while not unduly slowing the process.
... Even though a series of open houses is being contemplated, caution should be exercised to make sure these events don't turn into lobbying fests at which the administration tries to convince the public that this deal is the best while giving scant attention to alternatives. While some lobbying for public support will be unavoidable because people who have participated in the negotiations will be among those providing information at these open houses, citizens must nevertheless be able to leave the events feeling they have been to a classroom rather than a campaign rally.
... As things stand now, only one contract with ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP will likely be out there for public consumption even though there are three groups vying to build the line. The question of whether a contract with the three oil companies is better than something that might be reached with either of the other suitors is one that Alaskans will have to decide and one the administration acknowledges is central in the debate. It's therefore essential that the public be given as much neutral information as possible, at public events and through other means, to help in making that decision.
... With the extended public comment period, the open houses, and a sensitivity about the amount of salesmanship it should do, the governor and his people seem to be on the right path.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,
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