This week, Haines and Skagway residents will have the chance to tell Alaska Gov. Bill Walker their thoughts on the Juneau Access Road and state budget situation. Walker is making brief stops in each community Friday. His staff say its part of a slate of visits around the state to talk to communities about the Alaska’s fiscal outlook. But Walker will also hear from residents in this area about the Juneau Access Project.
Gov. Walker is venturing to two of the three communities that would be most impacted by the potential road. The visits come just weeks after news that Walker is weighing a decision on Juneau Access. When he first came to office, Walker put off a decision on the project, saying state budget concerns took precedence.
Haines Chamber of Commerce Director Debra Schnabel says she reached out to Walker’s office when the road resurfaced in the news.
“The Chamber was notified that Gov. Walker was rethinking the Juneau Access issue. And I emailed the governor’s office asking if that was true, and if so, we’d like to have a meeting,” Schnabel said. “‘We’ meaning the Chamber and community of Haines.”
Schnabel says this week’s meeting originated from that request. She says, even though the Juneau Access Road is back on people’s minds, she doesn’t see it as a ‘single-issue meeting.’
“I think of it more as come on over to our house and we’re going to tell you a few things that are on our mind, you tell us what’s on your mind, and we’ll talk about some stuff.”
But Schnabel says Chamber representatives met with Haines Mayor Jan Hill to come up with an official position to relay to the governor. That position will be printed on buttons Schnabel and others plan to wear to Friday’s gathering. It is ‘Ferry Reform First.’
“So we’re saying let’s give ferry reform a chance, and then let’s talk about an access road.”
Walker will sit in on joint chamber of commerce/borough assembly meetings in Haines and Skagway. Schnabel says the format for the Haines meeting will include a presentation from Mayor Hill, then remarks from Walker. After that, the floor will be open for a question and answer session, moderated by Chamber Board President Kyle Gray.
In Skagway, Chamber of Commerce Board President Jackie Schaefer says the Access Project may come up. But personally, she says, the PFD is more on her mind.
“People in Alaska use that PFD money to pay their winter bills — heating oil, clothing, food. It takes a lot to live here,” Schaefer said. “And we don’t want to move anywhere else. But they use that money in good conscience and use it to survive the winters here.”
PFD funds arrived in Alaskans’ bank accounts and mailboxes this month. They were just over $1,000 per person. That’s down from the original amount planned to be distributed because Walker vetoed half of dividend checks in June. It was an effort to preserve the permanent fund in light of the state budget crisis.
Alaska pollster Ivan Moore found that since that move, Walker’s popularity in the state has taken a hit. In the Alaska Survey Research poll, 35 percent of respondents had a positive view of Walker, down from 43 percent in June. The number of respondents who had a negative view of Walker spiked from 23 percent in June to 35 percent in September.
The Haines meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Chilkat Center. At 3:45 p.m., the Skagway meeting will take place in assembly chambers.
The Friday meetings with Walker are open to the public.