Rail, fire halls, roads for MAT-SU region in capital budget
MAT-SU—Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials greatly appreciate the $143 million in area funding for rail, roads, state highways, fire halls, schools, tourism and fisheries at a time when the State capital budget is tightening.
The Mat-Su Borough long has been a standout for growth in Alaska. The Knik-Fairview community, alone, grew 123 percent in 11 years and is the state’s fifth largest community. Overall the Borough grew by 50 percent in a decade. That’s on top of a 49 percent growth rate from the prior decade.
“We’re very happy with the State capital budget. This allows us to make infrastructure improvements for the fastest growing community in Alaska,” Borough Manager John Moosey said. “We’re very appreciative of our legislative delegation delivering great projects for our residents.”
Sen. Charlie Huggins, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, Sen. Click Bishop, Sen. Fred Dyson, Rep. Bill Stoltze, Rep. Mark Neuman, Rep. Wes Keller, Rep. Eric Feige, Rep. Shelley Hughes, and Rep. Lynn Gattis represent the MAT-SU Borough region.
• Port MacKenzie Rail is expected to receive $25 million in state appropriations. The project will be a rail link from the mainline of the Alaska Railroad to Port MacKenzie. The rail link makes mineral deposits and bulk resources of the Interior 141 miles closer by rail to a deep draft dock. With this funding, the project will work on Segment 5 as well as actual track construction for Segment 6 where a siding and a Y will be built off the mainline near Houston.
• Bogard Road Extension receives $8.2 million. The extension will be an east-west corridor from Palmer to Wasilla parallel to the highly congested Palmer-Wasilla Highway. This project will also help reduce traffic on the Glenn and Parks highways. Construction begins this summer and will occur in phases. The project needs $11.3 million to be completed.
With the support of Rep. Bill Stoltze, Sen. Mike Dunleavy and Rep. Mark Neuman, the MAT-SU Borough Fish & Wildlife Commission presented its case of salmon woes to the joint House and Senate Fish & Game Finance Subcommittee. The volunteer commission’s talk gained traction.
In the final capital budget:
• $2.5 million for MAT-SU fisheries and fish protection
• $2 million for Chinook Salmon Enhancement in Northern Cook Inlet (in State Fish & Game budget)
• $2.5 million for salmon research, restoration and enhancement initiatives for the Susitna River drainage system. (in State Fish & Game budget)
“We are pleased. It appeared that we were heard, and there is a genuine concern for our fisheries,” said Borough Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Larry Engel. “There’s no question that our salmon runs are in very unfortunate shape, and there’s people who want to do things about that and correct it,” Engel said.
Commissioners Larry Engel, Chairman Bruce Knowles, and Jim Colver explained to Legislators how sportfishing has plummeted to its lowest participation in 35 years in the MAT-SU. Historically sports fishing has significantly contributed to the MAT-SU economy. In 2007, MAT-SU anglers fished 300,000 days and spent $118 million and generated $31 million to $64 million in the local economy. Engel, a retired fisheries biologist and former Chair of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, explained to legislators likely causes for low escapements in Upper Cook Inlet and how funding and a different approach to fisheries management could turn that around.
• Caswell Lakes Fire Station has $2 million for a new fire hall. Tens of thousands of visitors drive the Parks Highway on the way to Denali. This fire station will provide a station from which to respond to the many calls for help.
• West Lakes Fire Service Area has $2.7 million for a new station.
• $350,000 for a warm storage fire station on the corner of Crystal Lakes and Shirley Lake roads in Willow.
• $470,000 for Willow Fire Service Area tanker
• $388,000 for warm storage fire station on Four Mile Road, four miles up Willow Hatcher Pass Road from the Parks Highway. This is an area in between two stations. It will hold an engine and a tanker for more rapid response to the area until a complete fire station is built.
"The three Willow projects funded buy our State legislators are critical to maintaining the current ISO (Risk Rating), and potentially improving it in the future. The ISO rating is used by most insurance companies to determine homeowners insurance premiums. With these three projects we will make more progress improving the Willow FD than has been made over the last 10 years. With that said, we still have a ways to go to get the fire department where it needs to be, but this is a great start," said District Chief William F. Gamble.
• $300,000 will go toward a permanent emergency operations center. Since 2003, the MAT-SU has managed response on three federally-declared disasters.
• $70,000 for Butte Volunteer Fire Dept. Mobile Treatment Center
• $1.8 million for aerial firefighting apparatus and equipment for Palmer
• The Port will receive $2.5 million for cathodic protection, which will help extend the life of the docks, protecting them from wear and tear.
• $2.5 million is slated to go toward river management. The MAT-SU endured a federal flood disaster last fall. The Matanuska River eroded into parts of Butte and the town of Talkeetna, at the confluence of three rivers, was flooded and evacuated.
ROADS AND BRIDGES
• $2.5 million for substandard roads and bridges will continue the effort to rebuild bridges that were deemed unsafe by the State’s Dept. of Transportation as well as upgrade Borough roads.
The State legislature approved the use of these federal funds.
• 4 million for Palmer-Wasilla Highway from Parks highway to Knik-Goose Bay Road, pavement restoration
• $29 million for Parks Highway, milepost 43.5 to 52.3 reconstruction Lucas Road to Big Lake Cutoff
• $20 million for Parks Highway milepost 194, Broad Pass Railroad overcrossing
• $1.5 million for Parks Highway, milepost 163 passing lanes
• $3.65 million for Glenn Highway upgrade milepost 53 to 56, Moose Creek
• $1 million to the MAT-SU Borough Convention & Visitors Bureau Gateway Center project for site acquisition and design. The proposed site is the former Homestead RV bluff at mile 36 of the Glenn Highway. The Center will welcome 100,000 visitors a year and serve as a jumping off point for information and amenities. “We have really done our homework on this facility and we’re super excited it’s being recognized and we can move forward,” said Bonnie Quill, Executive Director of the MSCVB. View the project at http://matsuvalleyvisitorcenter.com/
• $7 million for South Denali Visitor Center, a partnership between the Borough, the State, National Park Service and private entities.
Borough Planning Director Eileen Probasco: “It’s great that the State supports this project. This will make a big dent in funding for phase 1.” Starting this summer will be road construction for the lower facility. In a single year visitors spend $101 million in the MAT-SU. When the Center opens its doors, tourists are projected to spend an additional $44 million in the MAT-SU each year, according to a study by ISER, Institute of Social & Economic Research. This project creates access to the other face of Denali, the closer south side.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has 30 days to sign the bill from when the budget is transmitted from the Legislature. For a complete look at the capital budget go to this link and look under house district totals http://www.legfin.state.ak.us/BudgetReports/LY2013/Capital/Adjournment/DisplayReports.php
Photos: Top-Crews with Bristol Construction work on segment 1 of Port MacKenzie Rail Extension in March, laying the geotech fabric and gravel for a giant culvert called a multi-plate. Middle photo: Chairman Bruce Knowles of the Borough's Fish & Wildlife Commission explains to local legislators why MAT-SU fish are in trouble. Assembly Member Jim Colver on right is also on the Commission. Bottom image: A scrap ship at Port MacKenzie making possible the first direct export of scrap metal from Alaska to S. Korea. Photos by Patty Sullivan/MSB