FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly added legislative requests for funding for the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ power plant replacement and a pilot fuel switching program to its priorities last week.
The body approved a resolution setting its legislative priorities for the upcoming 2014 Legislative session with focuses on reducing home heating costs as well as funding for improved parks, schools and roads.
The UAF combined heat and power plant has been a top priority of the university system for a number of years. The existing plant is nearing the end of its life, and a wintertime failure could leave the campus without heat or electricity, university officials say.
Despite a price tag of more than $200 million for the project, the assembly had broad support for the addition. Assemblyman Lance Roberts said he felt it was a project that was important not just for the university.
“I think this is more than a university project, it is a community project,” he said. “I think it’s important and power and steam could be used in a further basis.”
The addition of a request for a program to help people switch to cleaner-burning fuels on poor air quality days was more controversial. Such an idea has been floated before to help combat Fairbanks’ wintertime air pollution, but it ran up against questions about how it would be administered.
Those same questions of how such a program would work came up again, with some assembly members asking to expand the project.
Assemblyman John Davies urged his assembly members to not get caught up on the specifics of the program, saying a narrowly tailored request is best.
“In the restricted budget scenario that we have now — it only passed on time when there was a lot of money on the table, there isn’t that much money on the table now — I think it’s important to make it clear that we’re talking about a pilot program,” he said.
The assembly also removed a request for funding for bathrooms at the South Cushman Rifle Range. Assemblyman Michael Dukes, a firearm advocate and frequent user of the range, said he’s never felt the need for restrooms there and added that they could end up looking like they “came from Sarajevo.”
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