Meeting Minutes April 25, 2017

Seward/Kenai Peninsula Highway Transportation Corridor Safety

Stakeholders Meeting

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 am

Girdwood, Alaska

Community Meeting Room

250 Egloff Drive

 

Meeting Notes

Draft

This meeting of the Seward/Kenai Peninsula Highway Transportation Corridor Safety Stakeholders was called to order at the date, time and location shows above.  A list of attendees from the sign in sheets is attached.  Diana Livingston, Co-Chair of Girdwood 2020, welcomed the attendees to this meeting.  Everyone present introduced themselves and stated their connection to the user group.

The Seward/Kensi Highway Safety Stakeholders first met early in 2012 as a result of other meetings on highway safety.  There have been three other user meetings at various venues since then and the group has agreed to policy documents that verify its credibility.

The stated purpose of this user meeting is to learn the status of Alaska State Trooper enforcement on the highway, and to discuss solutions to the funding of enforcement.

Livingston introduced Girdwood 2020 Co-Chair Lynn Johnson who moderated the meeting with assistance from Livingston.  A proposed agenda was available to attendees and is attached to these meeting notes..

Johnson first introduced Colonel James Cockrell, Director of Alaska State Troopers.   Col. Cockrell described the Alaska State fiscal decline which has resulted in budget reductions for all state departments.  To date the Alaska State Troopers budget has suffered a reduction of $10 million with an expectation of a further $1.2 million to be cut in 2017.  This has translated among other loss of services into a reduction of thirty-two positions and the need for reallocation of resources throughout the state.  For Seward Highway the trooper enforcement between McHugh Creek and Mile 75 will be provided by three officers from the Bureau of Highway Patrol (BHP).  The BHP patrols statewide, meaning there will not always be enforcement available in the affected area.  This force reduction means among other things that in the event of accidents in the area, the highway may not be reopened for some time, pending arrival of law enforcement officers qualified to clear the scene.   Other portions of the Seward Highway will be patrolled; since McHugh Creek to Mile 75 falls within the Municipality of Anchorage.  The transition is scheduled to commence at midnight on May 1, 2017.

Following further comments, Col. Cockrell called for questions.  First was Mike Opalka, former AST officer and resident of Girdwood, who serves on the Girdwood Public Safety committee.  Opalka commented that communities may be obliged to provide their own community enforcement as Girdwood has done.  Although a bill is in the works to allow AST to contract independently with communities, the lag time required to build up staff will be about five years.

Jerry Fox, co-chair of Girdwood Board of Supervisors, added discussion regarding absence of enforcement after BHP hours and Cockrell confirmed that the highway might be closed for some time, pending response.

Susanne Fleek-Green, attending from Anchorage Mayor Berkowitz’s office, explained that the Anchorage City Charter does not provide for use of financial resources from Anchorage Property taxes to be used outside the Service Area.  The Anchorage Police Department has a policy of responding in cases of need on a case by case basis under the Mutual Aid Agreement.   Assistance from the APD in these cases would be requested by AST.

James Starzec of Alaska DOT/PF asked if the money were available, whether the staffing could be restored.  Cockrell explained that the staffing has fallen to such a level that recruiting and training would require as much as five years.

Tim Cabana, Girdwood resident and current Vice Chair of Girdwood Land Use Committee, commented on the likelihood that most cars on the subject highway segment are from Anchorage residents, and it appears that a technicality is preventing use of Anchorage funds to protect its own citizens.  He suggested polling highway use and allocating some Municipality funds accordingly.  He commented that $10 million is not a huge portion of the city budget, and a code change could provide some relief from this situation.  Loss of time due to highway delays has economic costs, when tourist transportation is halted due to highway closure.  Cabana called for state and city decision makers to come together to create a solution.

Fleek-Green responded to Cabana’s comments that the city has been working on this matter for nearly two years.  Approval of Anchorage voters is required to amend the city charter; some possible solutions could be a bed tax dedicated to public safety, to create an area wide Public Safety Area that would coincide with the city borders, and to request a grant from the State of Alaska.  We just cannot use property taxes outside their local area.

John Scudder writing for the Turnagain Times inquired whether such a low level of trooper manning might result in unsafe situations for responders.  Cockrell agreed it is indeed the case; Troopers and other responders are at risk when they are alone.  Cockrell stated there were 140 assaults on officers last year.

Scott Walden, Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Department, commented that one of the primary purposes of government should be providing for public safety, and this should be a priority for AST and APD.  Walden stated that every time he drives the Seward Highway he observes serious and dangerous traffic violations.

Cockrell pointed out that the primary cause of loss of revenue is due to oil prices and low production.  The state has not framed a strategic approach to cutting the budget.  Ten percent per year has been cut from the state departments’ budgets for the past two years, totaling $10 million, but AST has been required to continue 24/7/365 operation.

Sam Daniel, Girdwood Board of Supervisors Co-Chair, stated that he perceives consensus in the room on what needs to be done in this situation.  The Girdwood Board of Supervisors is interested in organizing a forum as follows:

  1. Do what it takes to open a transparent dialog involving Anchorage (Mayor, Administration and Assembly), the Governor, and State Legislators with the agreed upon purpose of accomplishing an orderly transition of enforcement on April 30/May 1.
  2. This forum to be tasked with creating a proactive process and protocol to address safety, social and economic issues involved.
  3. Project a process that extends after May 1, 2017.
  4. Organize a special election for Anchorage to extend a service area that will cover the extent of the Seward Highway to Mile 75.

 

Was pointed out that representatives from the State Legislators are attending this meeting.  Kari Nore is from Senator Giessel’s office.  Sue Kennedy is from Representative Johnston’s office.

Assembly Representative John Weddleton pointed out that what we are discussing is not just an Anchorage issue, it involves the State of Alaska and we need to initiate a way to fund law enforcement on the highways of the state, exclusive of property taxes.  Representative Jennifer Johnston is working on state money to fund special patrols on, for example, Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, a lower cost patrol.  We need to be seeking a sustainable model to fund highway road enforcement.  Weddleton commented that the visitor industry is opposed to additional bed tax, but future events could cause a change of mind.

Peter Grunwaldt of Premier Alaska Tours stated there is resistance to targeted taxes by the visitor industry.  Tourism is one of the bright spots in the State’s economic portrait and we must support the seamless operation of this business.  Between Premier Alaska Tours and Holland Alaska Tours they move more than 400,000 people a year.  Premier moves 5000 people per day.  Their customers have schedules to meet and during the busy season there are no alternative places to lodge them if they cannot reach their destination.  It is necessary to have a plan and be able to expedite accident investigation so officers can efficiently reopen the highway.  Cockrell spoke about a 3D mapping camera that can assist and Grunwaldt said the visitor industry would help fund the cost in order to keep traffic moving.  The economic impact of a halt in traffic flow is huge.

Col. Cockrell stated that the Seward Highway is not fully safe with one lane traffic at accident scenes; the congestion increases possibility of another accident and places the responders at risk.

Girdwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Will Day summarized their position by saying they will keep doing what they do, moving victims via EMS to care facilities.  They are dispatched thru the Anchorage Fire Department and they first contact the Troopers or BHP in the area.  If there is no response from BHP they need a law enforcement officer to investigate the scene.  The Whittier officers can help, but they are not qualified to investigate or open the highway at this time. Anchorage Fire Department officers request additional help if appropriate and the nearest APD officers respond on a case by case basis.  Responder safety and public safety are always the first priority.

Fleek-Green stated that piecemeal solutions are not acceptable.  We need comprehensive solutions.  The Municipality would support a resolution stemming from this meeting and originating from Girdwood 2020, Girdwood Board of Supervisors and the Seward/Kenai Highway Safety Task Force with specific solutions for short term and long term.

A representative from Kenai Peninsula Borough emphasized that something needs to be resolved.  The KPB is fully impacted by highway disruptions.  The lifeline of KPB is carried by tankers, Lynden Transport and visitor coaches.  Interruptions are not an option.

Girdwood resident Lin Hinderman added that the importance of the big picture as being discussed cannot be denied, but we need to remember the value of everyday commuters, family commuting and all other personal matters supported by the highway.  A concerted grassroots effort will evolve and could be valuable in securing attention from legislators.

Brad Quade, Anchorage Sand and Gravel and Girdwood 2020 director, emphasized the importance of everyone writing letters to decision makers and legislators.

Girdwood resident Jackie Graham repeated the idea of a gas tax to fund the effort, and reminded everyone that all users of the highway must be aware of the importance of being prepared for delays, and having resources suitable for the season.

The group then turned to discussion of drafting a resolution from the task force that will call for meaningful solutions to this problem.  A resolution will be drafted from meeting input and editing will be sought.  The resolution will be under the auspices of the Seward/Kenai Peninsula Borough Highway Safety Task Force, with engagement from the Municipality of Anchorage, the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and Girdwood 2020.

 

Points to be included, not in final order, are:

 

  1. Intent is to provide security for our roads, for public safety and for our schools as users transit the highways.
  2. Request will be made for funds from the State of Alaska to be deposited into a separately accounted holding account and used to reimburse on an interim basis for Anchorage Police Department services to patrol the Seward Highway designated service area, and to investigate and clear accident scenes in order to expedite opening the highway to normal traffic flow.
  3. An expedited meeting of decision makers from the State of Alaska to include Governor Walker, the Municipality of Anchorage, to include Mayor Berkowitz and Anchorage Assembly, Alaska Legislators and representatives of the highway stakeholders with the stated purpose of insuring an acceptable transition between April 30 and May 1 law enforcement on the Seward Highway between McHugh Creek and Mile Post 75.
  4. Interim funding of no less than $2 million to be used for up to one year or until acceptable solutions are in place will immediately be made available.
  5. Purpose of the interim fund is to pay the costs incurred by Anchorage Police Department and Whittier Police Department for highway law enforcement, patrolling, investigation and insuring the highway is opened as soon as possible following necessary closure.
  6. Long Term actions are to include expanding the highway service area covered under Municipality of Anchorage to include all segments of the highway from McHugh Creek to Mile Post 75.
  7. Further Long Term action will include reliable, sustainable long term funding (sources suggested are gas tax, sales tax, other non-property tax, taxes not constrained by tax cap, other types of revenue, federal appropriations, and toll road).
  8. Although much of this discussion is focused on a specific highway segment (McHugh Creek to MP 75) we recognize that the problems impact all users and are statewide. Will engage Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su Boroughs.

 

After discussion with input from all who wished to comment, upon motion duly made and seconded, the following motion was approved with no objections and two statutory abstentions.

The Seward/Kenai Highway Safety Task Force approves drafting a resolution from this

meeting duly convened on April 25, 2017 to carry the direction of the group forward.

Following final discussion, upon motion duly made and seconded and unanimously approved, the meeting was adjourned at 11:30 am.

 

Meeting Notes Transcribed by Diana Stone Livingston

 

Approved by Moderator Lynn Johnson