Mayor takes city’s priorities to capitol

A whirlwind is Homer Mayor Beth Wythe’s description of last week’s trip to the state’s capital and visits with members of Gov. Sean Parnell’s staff and the Legislature. Traveling with Wythe was Katie Koester, the city’s economic development coordinator. The city’s lobbyist, Linda Anderson, assisted them.

“Our primary objective was that there is in the governor’s budget $4.2 million for our port and harbor, and we’re soliciting support to keep that moving forward,” said Wythe. “We want to make sure people understand that’s a high priority and how much work we’ve done on our side to be prepared when that money comes through.”

Harbor improvement revenue bond projects are at the top of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan. They include:

• Ramp 3 gangway and approach replacement;

• System 5 upgrade providing vessel shore power and water to the large vessel float system with additional power pedestals and a year-round fresh water supply to meet the needs of the large vessel fleet;

• Harbor float replacement.

The total project cost is $9.1 million. The city requested $4.2 through the state of Alaska Harbor Facility Grant Program, with a local match of $4.9 million.

The Juneau trip also as an opportunity to thank the sponsors of legislation such as House Bill 35, creating a low-interest loan program for homeowners wanting to improve or replace heating systems, said Wythe.

While in Juneau, Wythe and Koester advocated for the Skyline fire station, as well as work needed on Pioneer Avenue and Lake Street, two state-owned streets.

“In the governor’s budget there’s authorization for them to apply $5 million to Lake Street,” said Wythe. “That means if the state gets federal funding, the governor will authorize that project when it comes up on the (Statewide Transportation Improvement Program) list and it’s pretty high on the list so there’s a possibility of it for 2015.”

Wythe and Koester provided Parnell’s chief of staff with an update on bringing natural gas to the southern peninsula. Parnell vetoed funding for that project twice, before finally leaving it in the capital budget.

“Fairbanks right now is struggling with the question of energy,” said Koester. “In a lot of ways, Homer is seen as a role model on a small scale.”

What Wythe brought back to Homer is an understanding that the Legislature is interested in supporting long-term plans “and, if we get the money for (projects), how we’ll maintain them,” said Wythe. “My take is you have to have shovel-ready projects, so they were making a lot of funding available for projects that were shove- ready. … We have to sort through that and figure out what we can and can’t do on our own.”

Wythe and Koester, as well as City Manager Walt Wrede, will make another trip to Juneau in April, “to do some follow-up and hopefully be able to keep those monies moving toward Homer,” said Wythe.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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