The upper Mat-Su Valley’s Alaska legislative delegation held a town hall meeting on Saturday to hear the concerns of rural residents. Representative Wes Keller fielded questions and listened to comments for two hours at the Swiss Alaska Inn. Senator Mike Dunleavy was grounded by weather in Juneau, so his staffer John Woods attended the town hall to offer his comments and take comments with him back to the Senator when the legislature reconvenes in Juneau after the President’s Day holiday.More than 40 people shared their thoughts or just listened to a range of topics important to the region. Representative Keller started things off by talking about the Proposed Susitna Dam. He said he had heard from numerous people around the area about their concerns regarding the project. Energy in general is something that will dominate this legislature as it has for several years, Keller said.
Keller said that the state budget continues to increase while the state’s oil revenues continue to decrease, leaving the state with the option to reduce expenses, or increase oil revenues. There has been some progress with the development of an in-state gas-line, Keller said, but the process is slow and there is anything but consensus in the legislature about how to proceed.
A number of people attending the meeting expressed concern that a Susitna Dam would over-run it’s projected 4.5 billion dollar price-tag, and the megawatts produced by the dam would not significantly displace the need for oil or gas, but would succeed in draining state revenues away from other uses like roads, schools or libraries.
The Friends of the Talkeetna Library asked questions about funding for the library, since the State has put up 2.8 million dollars in matching funds, but there is a concern that the Mat Su Borough might not include their portion of the matching funds.
There was also a discussion about flood hazard mitigation, particularly regarding the Alaska Railroad’s bridge over the Talkeetna river, which some people say creates a bottleneck for the water flow that may contribute to flooding of east Talkeetna.
Another topic of discussion was the Susitna State Forest, which some people see as an opportunity to access more land and resources, both for the public and businesses. Some people expressed concerns that the bill to create the Susitna State Forest leaves the entire definition of uses up to the Department of Natural Resources.
A final topic of conversation was the fisheries disaster of 2012, which left fishermen in the inlet without enough fish, and closed the fishery inland for sport fishermen. Keller said that the legislature’s blue-ribbon commission on the chinook fishery has a number of people seriously looking at the matter, and he said it was one of the priorities for the session.