By Leila Kheiry
Governor Sean Parnell visited Ketchikan Tuesday, and spoke to a group of Rotary members and their guests during the Rotary 2000 weekly luncheon at Cape Fox Lodge.
Parnell gave audience members an overview of the state, and talked about Ketchikan specifically. He said that statewide, things are looking good.
"From a big picture, I'm excited about Alaska," he said. "I'm excited about our opportunities here. I travel around the state a lot and I travel some in the Lower 48, and there is no place that I would rather be than in this state. We were joking at the table that only the governor of North Dakota might have cause to say that they have a better economy than we do, but there are at least 48 other governors that would trade places with me, and their states would trade places with every resident of our state. The opportunities here are endless, and as vast as our state.
"When I say that, I think about a few things in particular. I think first of our people, and I think second of our resources."
Parnell said he recently toured a Shell Oil drilling rig that should be headed to the Arctic soon. He said the potential there for increased oil production means economic growth for the state, more oil in the TransAlaska pipeline, and more jobs.
Parnell also talked about natural gas development at Point Thomson, which he said was held for many years under a lease, but not developed. He said that through litigation, the state was able to negotiate with the leaseholders, and get a commitment to start development.
Parnell said the state is heavily dependent on oil, and needs to open up the next resource. He said oil industry representatives are working on a plan for an all-Alaska gas line. Parnell said that an export facility in Alaska, perhaps in Ketchikan, to send gas to Asia, makes more economic sense than piping gas through Canada to the Lower 48.
Locally, Parnell said he met with Ketchikan's two mayors Tuesday morning.
"Thankfully, this was not a meeting where I got hit over the head on things," he said. "They were pretty happy with the capital budget."
Parnell said Ketchikan has the three Ms: Mining, Maritime and Mariculture. He said he was pleased to learn that the Alaska Mining Association started a chapter here, and he plans to continue support of that industry.
Parnell said Ketchikan's maritime industry is expanding along with the shipyard, which he said is on the way to gaining more state ferry contracts, and should be well-positioned to work on ships traveling to and from the Arctic. He said he also was working toward getting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey vessel Fairweather homeported in Ketchikan.
Regarding mariculture, Parnell said Ketchikan has much to look forward to, with new research and efforts under way.
"I know that, Ketchikan, you have suffered so much across the years, but you are so well-positioned now to take advantage of what's around you, and also to be in coordination with the rest of the state."
Following his talk, Parnell answered a few questions from the audience. He said energy is a major issue, particularly in Alaska, where heating needs and costs both are high.
In response to another question, he said the state was working with the federal government on a plan for mitigating debris from last year's tsunami in Japan.
Another audience member asked about education funding. Parnell said the state's public education system needs to change, and he has started making progress in that area, such as incentive scholarships for students.
Parnell responded to another question about the state budget. He said the level of spending is not sustainable, but it's better than it might have been. Parnell said it took two years of record-breaking vetoes, but this year, the Senate worked with him to create a budget that fell within a set spending limit.
"The Senate learned," he said. "And I say that with all respect, because when a governor says he or she is going to do something, he or she has got to do it. Otherwise, you lose credibility and the ability to move in the next year."
Parnell said the spending limit slowed the tanker of spending, but it hasn't turned the corner yet.