Local News

Regional round-up: Elections, ferries, power

New Southeast election district boundaries contributed to three incumbent lawmakers’ losses in 2012. The Alaska Supreme Court just threw out the redistricting plan.

Here are some of Southeast Alaska’s top stories of 2012:

The year saw three longtime incumbent lawmakers lose their seats in the Legislature.

Haines Republican Bill Thomas’s loss was the biggest upset. Many expected an easy reelection, since he co-chaired the budget-writing House Finance Committee.

“I’m in a leadership position and in a position to help not only just my district, but all of Southeast,” he said.

But then Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins filed and began introducing himself to the district.

“I’m knocking on every door in Angoon, in Hydaburg, in Kasaan, in Sitka and everywhere else,” he said.

The final tally gave the 23-year-old political newcomer a 32-vote win.

Redistricting was one reason for Thomas’ loss. It also helped Sitka Republican Bert Stedman defeat Angoon Democrat Albert Kookesh.

It was also a factor in Ketchikan incumbent Kyle Johansen’s defeat. He left a crowded GOP primary to run as an independent, but didn’t get far.

“I registered as a Republican and the party is backing Wilson and that’s as far as it goes,” he said.

Wrangell incumbent Peggy Wilson went on to beat Johansen and Democrat Matt Olsen by a strong margin.

In all, redistricting took Southeast’s eight legislative seats down to six. And the election cost the region both its Native lawmakers.

The year also brought changes to the ferry system. Marine highways chief Mike Neussl announced reestablishment of Angoon’s connection to Sitka.

“That’s made possible by the fact that the dock in Angoon was completely rebuilt and is now compatible with the fast vehicle ferry Fairweather,” he said.

Plans for the Alaska Class Ferry underwent a significant alteration this year. Gov. Sean Parnell announced a single, medium-sized vessel would cost far more than expected. He said two, small shuttle ferries were a better idea.

“My goal is to make sure that the schedules are maintained or bettered, so the service is maintained or bettered. I want to make sure the vessel or vessels are built on budget and I’m working hard to get those built here in Ketchikan,” he said.

Also this year, Southeast communities continued researching and testing wood-powered heat and electrical projects.

Angoon, Hydaburg, Sitka, Ketchikan and some other locations continued pushing for new or expanded hydropower plants.

Meanwhile, the Southeast Alaska Power Agency considered streamlining operations at its two dams, serving Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

A report suggested having one, not two, operators would save up to a half-million dollars a year. But concerns about reliability, efficiency and safety pushed the decision into 2013.

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