Gov. Bill Walker, right, speaks to KTVA-TV reporter Steve Quinn, left, on Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018 at the governor’s mansion. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Bill Walker, right, speaks to KTVA-TV reporter Steve Quinn, left, on Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018 at the governor’s mansion. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

Walker abandons push for $10M ANWR survey, instead asks for statewide 911 call center

Gov. Bill Walker is abandoning a push to spend up to $10 million on oil and gas survey work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In a Monday letter to the co-chairs of the Alaska Legislature’s House and Senate finance committees, Walker asked that his $10 million budget request be changed: $8.3 million of the request should go to a new statewide 911 call center envisioned by Walker, and $1.5 million should go to the trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline project.

In a Tuesday morning conversation with reporters, Walker said that public safety is his top priority, and he supports legislative action on elements of his public safety plan unveiled in October. That 68-part plan called for “exploring (the possibility) of a consolidated communications center,” but Walker has now placed the idea at the forefront and is calling for money to create it.

Alaska is one of only three states without such a center, according to Walker’s letter to legislators.

Congress approved oil and gas drilling in ANWR with a December vote, and in February, Walker suggested spending $10 million on seismic surveying to cultivate corporate interest in drilling leases there. During a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, the idea was supported by Andy Mack, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.

Since that hearing, Walker has made a push to improve public safety amid a surge of crime caused at least in part by the opioid drug-abuse epidemic. The state has called for more spending on the state’s prison system, prosecutors and troopers, and Walker’s letter said a 911 call center is necessary to improve communications and response times.

Ninety-two percent of the state’s geographic area lacks what is known as “enhanced 911,” which provides (among other things) location information to dispatchers. Callers from cellphones are frequently prompted by emergency operators to provide their locations, and in instances where they cannot, response times lag as rescuers search for the caller.

Walker’s proposal calls for creating a $9.5 million Anchorage dispatch center that would combine the services of existing facilities in Fairbanks, Wasilla and Soldotna. Troopers also operate a dispatch center in Ketchikan; that center would remain open.

Construction of the center in an existing state building would require the ANWR money, the cancellation of a planned public safety driver academy, and redirecting $150,000 that had been earmarked for a feasibility study to determine whether the dispatch center is necessary.

If approved, the governor’s proposal envisions the center opening in late 2019 or early 2020.

Legislators will have the final word on the proposal: Money for the call center is contained within the state’s capital construction budget, which is under consideration this week in the Senate Finance Committee.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Three cruise ships are docked along Juneau’s waterfront on the evening on May 10, as a Princess cruise ship on the right is departing the capital city. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Sitka residents join those in Juneau proposing hard caps on cruise ships as tourism grows

Two ballot measures could be presented to local voters in the two Southeast Alaska towns this fall

Most Read