Governor Walker's office is reaching out to local Alaska radio stations. KDLG's Izzy Ross talked with the governor about a few issues affecting Bristol Bay.
Izzy Ross, KDLG: Governor Walker, thank you for joining me. I'd like to start by asking how you think the Pebble permitting process is going, and what you think about the extension of the public comment period until June 29?
Gov. Walker: We’re pleased with the expansion. We asked for the expansion of the public comment period, and it went from 30 days to 90 days. So, we asked for a little more than 90, but 90 is better than 30. We listen very closely to the public input and we stand by the communities in Bristol Bay. You know, the process is going through. We have not been bashful about sharing that my position has always been fish first, and I will not pit a non-renewable against a renewable, the renewable being fish. I am a fish first person, and I’ve said that the burden is very high that in order to prove they can do what they want to do without injury to fishing. I’ve taken a lot of criticism for my position of putting fish first, but that’s just where I am.
Ross: Now that you mention being 'fish first,' the Yes for Salmon group is backing an initiative to strengthen salmon habitat protections. What is your view of this initiative?
Walker: I’m very concerned about that initiative process. I would describe it as a blunt instrument. I’ve met with the initiative sponsors, and most of them are out-of-state sponsors that are doing this.* I believe that if there’s modification to our permitting system, that it should be done through a process that involves public input, public hearings, etc. And so I am very concerned about the impact of that initiative as far as development in the rest of Alaska. I think it's significantly too broad. And if there are specific changes and proposals, we’re always anxious to hear them and implement them. So while I certainly stand strong on the issue of Bristol Bay and the sustainability of the fishery there, that initiative, to me, goes far beyond what is appropriate for Alaska.
Ross: I'd like to move on to infrastructure. Dillingham's streets have been in disrepair for years, and delays in the Alaska Department of Transportation right-of-way acquisition have been a major factor in this. Do you see any way towards streamlining these processes or addressing delays like this in the future?
Walker: I think that working directly with the Department of Transportation is the appropriate way to do that. Certainly have communication with Commissioner Luiken on that issue. We’ve closed down 40 state facilities – many of them are DOT facilities – that we’ve closed down as a result of the fiscal situation we’re in, eliminated or modified about a hundred state programs. And we have about three thousand fewer state employees than we did a few years ago. So we’ve been going through a major, major budget reduction. I don’t know if that’s related to it, but there are impacts in reducing budgets, and there are impacts across the state. If it’s taken longer than in the past, we certainly apologize for that. But we’re dealing with a very, very significant budget reduction effort, and so that could be part of it.
Ross: Is the state currently working on any infrastructure initiatives?
Walker: Well, the [Alaska LNG] gasline is an infrastructure initiative, there’s no question. And it’s one that will provide long-term, every year, significant funding for some of the very projects you’re talking about. Because 20 percent of the revenue from the state’s royalty gaps would be made available every year for infrastructure projects in rural Alaska. So alternative energy would be one. It’s an opportunity of developing our resources responsibly. So that’s how we would be able to fund exactly what you’re talking about. Another thing we’re working on is the deferred maintenance. Alaska has almost 2 billion dollars of deferred maintenance that need to be done on our existing infrastructure. We have different methods in play to be able to try to get that funded as well. And that would be spread over about 60 different communities across the state. Certainly Dillingham would be one of those that would receive funding for that. So we’re working on that in the last few days here of the session.
Ross: Governor Walker, thank you for talking with me today.
Walker: Izzy, thank you very much, and congratulations on your transition to Dillingham. You're going to enjoy it immensely, as I do every trip I'm out there.
***Correction: Governor Walker said in this interview "I’ve met with the [Yes for Salmon] initiative sponsors, and most of them are out-of-state sponsors that are doing this." The governor misspoke. He met with out-of state funders and donors, not sponsors. The sponsors of the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative are Alaskans.
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