Local News

Stedman urges rural Alaskans to work together

Senator Bert Stedman was in Ketchikan on Wednesday to speak during the second annual Rotary Vocational Awards ceremony. The Sitka Republican talked business and the economy, with a few deviations into politics.

While Stedman praised the resiliency of Southeast Alaska residents as they pull back from the downturn in the timber industry, he notes that the region continues to face challenges.

A population decline accompanied the timber decline, and following the last Census, political representation for Southeast and other rural parts of Alaska also dropped. Stedman stressed the need for cooperation in the face of upcoming legislation sponsored by Railbelt politicians that may not

“As we try to move forward and deal with these things, one of the things we need to concentrate on is the cohesive unit of Southeast, and working together,” he said. “If we don’t stick together, we’re not going to keep the momentum that we built up the last decade moving.”

Stedman warns against getting distracted by “inner family squabbles,” and said that Southeast instead should present a united front.

“It’ll put us in a better position to deal with our issues as we go forward,” he said. “We have a need to continue expansion of the shipyard, we need to expand hydro capacity. I had a discussion with the chief of staff of the governor yesterday in Juneau, about the need to expand the water storage in our lakes.”

Stedman mentioned a proposal to raise Swan Lake dam, Ketchikan’s primary source of hydropower. He also talked about the Blue Lake expansion project in Sitka, which is moving forward despite a price tag of an estimated $150 million.

Power is one area in particular where Stedman said rural Alaska needs to work together. He said rural lawmakers were shut out of an important decision last year.

“We unfortunately last year didn’t get to participate – we in rural Alaska, including Western and Kodiak and the (Aleutian) chain – didn’t participate in the grand execution of the Railbelt energy solution, which is going to cost the treasury somewhere around half a billion, give or take a few pennies,” he said.

Stedman said the already-low cost of energy in Anchorage is why so many industries have operations there. And the new plan will help maintain that low cost.

Stedman said there are some positive opportunities in Southeast. He notes the two mines under development on Prince of Wales Island, and the two Alaska Class ferries that the Ketchikan shipyard likely will build for the state. Stedman said a third ferry contract is possible, to replace the aging Tustemena.

Stedman also mentioned the ongoing discussion over a pipeline to send natural gas from Point Thomson to the coast. He said former Gov. Frank Murkowski had the right idea about the gas line, and if Alaska makes the right investment choices, it could provide good income for the state.

“We need to put in probably about $10 billion, preferably in my opinion in cash, which we have in several different piles,” he said. “And we’ll get a regulated rate of return like a utility of 12 to 14 percent, which would mean about a billion or two a year. And that doesn’t count the value of the gas coming out of the ground, and we’d get a piece of that, too.”

After his comments, Stedman talked in more detail about where the money could come from. He notes that the Permanent Fund, for example, could invest up to $10 billion in the project, and get a better rate of return than some of its current investments.

Senator Bert Stedman was in Ketchikan this week (Wednesday) to speak during the second annual Rotary Vocational Awards ceremony. The Sitka Republican talked business and the economy, with a few deviations into politics.

While Stedman praised the resiliency of Southeast Alaska residents as they pull back from the downturn in the timber industry, he notes that the region continues to face challenges.

A population decline accompanied the timber decline, and following the last Census, political representation for Southeast and other rural parts of Alaska also dropped. Stedman stressed the need for cooperation in the face of upcoming legislation sponsored by Railbelt politicians that may not

“As we try to move forward and deal with these things, one of the things we need to concentrate on is the cohesive unit of Southeast, and working together,” he said. “If we don’t stick together, we’re not going to keep the momentum that we built up the last decade moving.”

Stedman warns against getting distracted by “inner family squabbles,” and says that Southeast instead should present a united front.

“It’ll put us in a better position to deal with our issues as we go forward,” he said. “We have a need to continue expansion of the shipyard, we need to expand hydro capacity. I had a discussion with the chief of staff of the governor yesterday in Juneau, about the need to expand the water storage in our lakes.”

Stedman mentioned a proposal to raise Swan Lake dam, Ketchikan’s primary source of hydropower. He also talked about the Blue Lake expansion project in Sitka, which is moving forward despite a price tag of an estimated $150 million.

Power is one area in particular where Stedman says rural Alaska needs to work together. He says rural lawmakers were shut out of an important decision last year.

“We unfortunately last year didn’t get to participate – we in rural Alaska, including Western and Kodiak and the (Aleutian) chain – didn’t participate in the grand execution of the Railbelt energy solution, which is going to cost the treasury somewhere around half a billion, give or take a few pennies,” he said.

Stedman says the already-low cost of energy in Anchorage is why so many industries have operations there. And the new plan will help maintain that low cost.

Stedman says there are some positive opportunities in Southeast. He notes the two mines under development on Prince of Wales Island, and the two Alaska Class ferries that the Ketchikan shipyard likely will build for the state. Stedman says a third ferry contract is possible, to replace the aging Tustemena.

Stedman also mentioned the ongoing discussion over a pipeline to send natural gas from Point Thomson to the coast. He says former Gov. Frank Murkowski had the right idea about the gas line, and if Alaska makes the right investment choices, it could provide good income for the state.

“We need to put in probably about $10 billion, preferably in my opinion in cash, which we have in several different piles,” he said. “And we’ll get a regulated rate of return like a utility of 12 to 14 percent, which would mean about a billion or two a year. And that doesn’t count the value of the gas coming out of the ground, and we’d get a piece of that, too.”

After his comments, Stedman talked in more detail about where the money could come from. He notes that the Permanent Fund, for example, could invest up to $10 billion in the project, and get a better rate of return than some of its current investments.

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