JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is proposing to spend nearly $10 million to upgrade the state's antiquated 911 system, using cash he previously wanted set aside for studying the oil and gas potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Alaskans in some rural areas have to dial a 1-800 number to reach help, which the proposal is designed to fix, Walker said in a prepared statement issued Monday. Walker's plan aims to centralize the Alaska State Troopers' emergency dispatch system, which currently relies on four regional hubs that use different computer systems.
Walker made his request Monday in a letter to the co-chairs of the finance committees in the House and Senate. He wants them to pay for the $9.5 million first phase of the 911 project in this year's annual capital budget.
Walker, in his letter, said most of that cash should come from a $10 million line-item he'd previously proposed for studying the Arctic refuge's oil potential.
In December, Congress authorized oil development in the refuge's coastal plain — a priority of Alaska's congressional delegation for decades.
In February, Walker's administration asked state lawmakers for $10 million for a seismic study of the refuge — in which workers send vibrations into the earth to collect information about underground rock formations.
Publicly available information about the refuge's oil potential is scant and based on a study that's three decades old. Walker's administration said in February that updated information derived from newer technology could attract more interest, and more cash for the state, from the oil industry.
In his letter to lawmakers Monday, Walker said his $10 million request is "not needed for seismic work at this time." A spokesman for Walker, Austin Baird, said the governor still supports seismic work in the refuge, but suggested that the state, which is in the middle of a budget crisis, doesn't have the cash to pay for both items.
"The decision to reallocate state money from seismic surveys to the effort to create a statewide 911 system was necessary to prioritize scarce state resources to address a critical health, life and safety issue," Baird wrote in an email. "Everyone deserves to reliably know someone is on the other end of the line if they call for help in an emergency situation."
Walker's proposal will have to be approved by both the House and Senate before the money can be spent.