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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The more than decade-long battle over a road out of Juneau has been fought in court, in the Legislature and city assemblies and at the ballot box. Now it is being fought with dueling studies.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities wants to build what it calls the Juneau Access Improvement Project , but which locals simply call "the road."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be sworn into office in the state capital, leading to sighs of relief in Juneau, which is still smarting from former Gov . Sarah Palin's decision to be inaugurated in Fairbanks.

Following Palin's abrupt resignation, new Gov. Sean Parnell was then sworn in in Fairbanks as well.

But Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan is praising the decision by Walker and running mate Byron Mallott to be inaugurated in Juneau.

"I'm really happy that this is back in Juneau, but there will be inaugural balls all over," Egan said.

"This is going back to how it used to be," he said.

Inaugural balls are typically scheduled by local communities early in the following year...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Top federal officials overseeing the Tongass National Forest are disputing environmental group claims that an announced shift to logging second-growth timber instead of controversial old growth has "stalled" but are acknowledging the transition will take time.

Robert Bonnie, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, said the change will take 10 to 15 years, and that old-growth harvests will have to continue in the meantime to protect local communities reliant on the industry.

"There's going to be a need for old-growth timber supply for several years," said Bonnie, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU - Environmental groups that have stopped most logging on the Tongass National Forest with decades of opposition and lawsuits are now saying most of what remains could easily be done away with as well.

They're urging the U.S. Forest Service to stop spending its money on timber sales, and instead devote its limited budget to promoting tourism, fishing and other growth industries.

"These resources could be put to better use by investing in programs and projects that support larger and more vibrant industries," said Ben Alexander of Headwaters Economics at a Tuesday press conference hosted by Trout Unlimited...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Caelus Energy, which this year bought independent oil company Pioneer Natural Resources' Alaska operations, has been given preliminary approval for big reductions in the royalties it will pay the state when its new Nuna development on the North Slope comes into production.

The Department of Natural Resources says that dropping the royalty rate from 12.5 percent to 5 percent will make development of Nuna economical and bring new oil production to Alaska.

Division of Oil & Gas Director Bill Barron said companies have to prove they need the reduced royalties.

"It's a tool for the state to allow the company to move forward in economically or technically challenging projects that probably would not go forward, save royalty relief," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature is spending $33 million renovating its offices, but when they're done, no one may even notice.

At least, that's what architect Wayne Jensen hopes.

Those offices, otherwise known as the state Capitol, were built in 1930 by the federal government to serve the then-Territory of Alaska.

Good, solid construction for its time, Jensen said, but now badly in need of an upgrade.

"This is a very valuable building. It's got a rich history starting as the territorial building and then becoming the state Capitol in 1959," he said.

"They did a good job 80 years ago -- I'm giving them credit for getting it right the first time. This renovation we're doing should add another 80 years to the building," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Facing difficulty in getting a road through rugged terrain to Canada's Tulsequah Chief mine, the company that wants to reopen the old gold, zinc and copper mine is now planning instead on bringing the ore out through Alaska by barge.

That's raising concerns in Alaska's capital city of Juneau, where the barges would pass through. The Canadian mine is just east of Juneau.

Chieftain Metals Corp. of Canada has provided few details so far about what that new barging plan would entail and what sort of regulatory hurdles there might be in either Alaska or British Columbia...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Senate Democrats have named Sen. Berta Gardner as their new leader, while Rep. Chris Tuck will continue for another session as leader of House Democrats. Both are from Anchorage.

The Senate Minority Caucus this year will include Sens. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who last session were members of the Republican-led Majority Caucus.

Democratic committee assignments will include Olson on the Finance Committee, as well as the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. Egan will serve as a member of the Transportation Committee he chaired last session and will continue as a member of the Legislative Council...

Pat Forgey

Members of the state House of Representatives have selected Mike Chenault of Nikiski as their Speaker for the fourth straight session, giving a solid stamp of approval to the leadership of the former construction company owner for the last six years.

That's a record time as a presiding officer for either legislative body, surpassing the three sessions in which Sitka Democrat Ben Grussendorf served as speaker, and three sessions in which Jalmar Kerttula of Palmer served as a presiding officer, once as a speaker and twice as president of the Senate.

In a written statemente following a closed-door organizational meeting in Anchorage, Chenault called the record-setting election "humbling."...

Pat Forgey

With several House races in the Alaska Legislature still undecided, the more stable Senate took its first steps Wednesday toward organizing for the upcoming 29th Legislature, with the Republican majority naming Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, as Senate President.

Tuesday’s election increased the Senate Republican majority by one to 14, and the senators quickly responded with an organization that elevated Meyer, a 14-year legislative veteran, to replace Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla. Sen. John Coghill of Fairbanks will continue as majority leader and Huggins took the leadership job of chairman of the Rules Committee.

The Republican majority in the House was solid even with three undecided races, two of them in Anchorage...

Richard Mauer,Pat Forgey