Congressman Young talks funding & energy
Representative Don Young
Alaska Congressman Don Young spoke about a program to revitalize Southeast schools, local businesses and sea otter pelt market possibilities during a brief stop in Petersburg on Tuesday.
Young met with the Economic Redevelopment Council on Tuesday in City Council chambers. The hour-long round-table invited members of the council and the community to speak their minds.
Young first spoke about the importance of the fishing industry in Southeast Alaska: “You can't just build up a work-force over night, you have to have people who know what they're doing,” he said.
But the conversation turned to education. Superintendent of Schools Robert Thomason asked about the Secure Rural Schools program.
Alaska received about $22.2 million in 2009, but that number has declined since – $20.1 million in 2010, and $18.8 million in 2011 under the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Alaska has nine resource advisory committees; two on the Chugach National Forest and seven on the Tongass National Forest, which formed to advise the Forest Service on expenditures of Title II funds.
“You are living in the land of plenty in Southeast Alaska, yet you are faced with the problem of going broke,” Young said.
The program, which expired in September 2011, had provided hundreds of millions of dollars annually to rural school districts throughout the country. It also encompassed federal funding to road projects, fire assistance and forest restoration activities.
“I said this in Ketchikan, if you want to have these trees stand dead … for those in Miami and San Francisco and L.A. – if they want to save the great big trees then they ought to pay for the schools. Because when you lose your school you lose your community,” he added.
About 10 years ago, Secure Rural Schools replaced the national forest receipts program, which gave schools a share of revenue mostly generated from logging activities on national forest land.
“The House has a bill, and we are thinking it's somewhat difficult, because everyone wants to cut back on the budget,” he said.
If the new bill is signed into law, it is unclear how much money would come to Alaska schools.
“To be honest with you I haven't read all the bills, because they are written in legalize,” Young said.“And you have to be a lawyer to understand it. They do this deliberately by the way,” he added.
City Manager Steve Giesbrecht said that one of the advantages residents of Southeast Alaska have is utility rates. “They are far better than other folks in Alaska have to deal with,” he said. “That's a competitive advantage for us, related to keeping industries – Icicle Seafoods, Tonka Seafoods – the challenge with that is related to hydro-electric power … over time, we hope to expand that, but the regulations are pretty steep. As we move down that road, we need all the help we can get."
Young said “... hydro-power in the Southeast is the gas line of the north. We ought to be expanding every place we can. The biggest thing we face is this administration claims that hydroelectric power is not renewable energy. Which is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.”
“There is no reason to burn any diesel fuel, anywhere in Southeast Alaska,” he added. I hope the state gets more aggressive … then, we can expand the hydro grid down here in Southeast.”
Harbormaster Glorianne Wollen expressed thanks to the Congressman for funding to dredge the North Harbor. “It's going to allow us, actually after 18 years, to dredge the North Harbor,” she said
Ross Nannauck III asked about regulations regarding the sea otter pelts - that the tanned hide should be able to be sold overseas, he said.
“My goal is that you can sell [the hides] … you don't have to manufacture something,” Young said.
Nannauck said the sea otter hides would be made into hats, teddy bears, or other items.
“Teddy bears! They ought to at least make sea otters out of sea otters,” Young said.
Sea otters, along with polar bears, manatees, and Pacific Walrus are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Any changes to the act requires a vote of Congress. But the problem in Southeast Alaska has been the overwhelming population of sea otters that have decimated sea cucumber, geoduck clam, red sea urchin and Dungeness crab. Sea otters have caused problems for local fishermen.
“There's a big enough market for sea otter pelts,” Young said. "We should be able to work something out."