To the editor: The Fairbanks City Council should reject Gary Wilken’s nomination to serve on the Interior Gas Utility board, replacing Frank Abegg. Mr. Abegg is resigning because he believes that the recent dealings with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority could “financially cripple the combined IGU-FNG gas utility.” Mr. Wilken was the main architect of those dealings while serving on the AIDEA board. Specifically, Mr. Wilken supported AIDEA’s purchase of the Pentex facility in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Originally, AIDEA intended to sell major parts of the facility to private companies serving the Interior. When that effort failed, AIDEA sold Pentex to IGU at a profit. According to some IGU board members and staff, AIDEA threatened IGU with loss of state funding if IGU did not purchase Pentex. After the sale, it has come out that the Pentex facilities are in worse condition than originally represented, and IGU will incur substantial costs to bring the facilities up to code. The wisdom of the Pentex purchase is now a serious question, and Mr. Wilken’s involvement in pushing the Pentex sale creates a clear conflict of interest and substantial doubts about his leadership.
This is not the first time Mr. Wilken has been involved in Fairbanks utilities. Mr. Wilken served on the Fairbanks Public Utilities Board (PUB) for 12 years from 1983 to 1995. During his tenure, municipal utility management declined. Mr. Wilken proposed privatization of the municipal utilities system to address the decline. After the PUB adopted the proposal to sell, Mr. Wilken resigned and became an owner in the group purchasing the water and sewer utilities, which was sold to its current owners. It is estimated Wilken made over $1 million in the process. After privatization, water and sewer rates increased by 61 percent. The MUS history suggests that Mr. Wilken’s experience, while financially rewarding to himself, failed to provide sound and responsible management of city utilities. His record is not an endorsement.
Mr. Wilken’s nomination for the IGU board is the wrong person at the wrong time.