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Fairbanks assembly member seeks end to gas pipeline alliance

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Posted: Monday, March 25, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 5:48 am, Mon Mar 25, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — An assemblyman wants to disband the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, an alliance between Fairbanks and Valdez to secure a natural gas pipeline snaking along the same path as the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

A resolution calling on Fairbanks to withdraw from the port authority comes before the assembly Thursday.

Bill Walker, the port authority’s general counsel, said the agency brings the gasline project to the attention of companies around the world. People are interested in the project, he said. They are waiting for the state to require leaseholders on the North Slope to develop the gas.

Borough Assemblyman Lance Roberts said the 14-year-old agency has failed to achieve its goal to produce a natural gas pipeline.

“Basically, they have not been able to make it happen,” Roberts said. “I don’t think they are that useful. There is no point in keeping them around.”

Voters gave birth to the port authority after an overwhelmingly popular referendum in 1999 drawing 10,760 yes votes. Saying no were 3,629 voters, Borough Clerk Mona Lisa Drexler said.

The North Slope Borough belonged to the pact but later backed out.

The voters granted the port authority wide powers, including financing and building a pipeline and purchasing and selling natural gas.

The three port authority board members from Fairbanks, including former Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker, met with the assembly last week.

Walker, the authority’s pro bono attorney, briefed the assembly on the agency’s business, offering a detailed timeline.

He told a story of relationships made, deals struck and lost, late-filed paperwork and state leaders’ failure to help advance the project.

The former gubernatorial candidate said the port authority has brought attention to Alaska’s natural gas on the world stage.

“We’re presenting the Alaska LNG project in the marketplace,” he said.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins is a former port authority board member who thinks the borough should continue participating.

The last time the assembly appropriated taxpayer money to the authority was in 2008, the mayor said. The six members of the board are volunteers.

From Fairbanks are Whitaker, Merrick Peirce and Steve Haagenson, a former utility executive and state energy adviser.

Roberts’ resolution stems in part from an ad the port authority ran before the state primary election last year.

The ad pointed out which candidates for Senate District C in Fairbanks supported last year’s bipartisan coalition in the state Senate and which candidates opposed the coalition.

The ad gave credit to the bipartisan coalition for stopping the proposed bullet line, a plan that runs a small pipeline to Anchorage. The port authority opposes it.

Roberts believes the agency misused public funds to influence an election in violation of Alaska Statute 15.13.145.

The statute forbids government agencies from using money to influence an election but says they may spend money to “provide the public with nonpartisan information about a ballot proposition or questions or about all the candidates seeking election to a particular public office.”

“They need to be neutral and provide information and not be partisan,” Roberts said.

Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison agreed. She scolded the port authority board members.

“There should be some discretion on your board about whether to run an ad like that,” she said.

Peirce, the port authority’s treasurer, said he read 12 pages of rules and instructions from the Alaska Public Offices Commission before placing the ad.

It’s legitimate, he said.

No one has complained to the public offices commission about the ad and there are no pending investigations, an official with APOC said Friday. The public offices commission polices election materials.

Roberts, who has asked the port authority to produce financial records, said he may yet complain to the public offices commission.

Contact freelance writer Amanda Bohman at aknewsgirl@gmail.com.

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