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Alaska Editorials

Associated Press Updated: October 27, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Oct. 24, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Utility's pipe order meaningful step toward Interior energy relief

The Oct. 22 announcement that the Interior Gas Utility has placed an order for pipe to complete the first phase of its distribution buildout next year was welcome news for those following local energy issues closely. Not only is it meaningful progress down the path toward affordable energy for Interior residents, but the development also keeps the IGU's part of the ambitious Interior Energy Project on track.

The first pipe order will be for 80 miles of polyethylene pipe of varying diameters and will be installed next summer in North Pole. As residents in Fairbanks found this year as crews installing pipe for Fairbanks Natural Gas extended existing lines, it's one thing to read about natural gas coming at a future date and very much another to see pipe going into the ground. Something about the tangible nature of the project when it reaches the stage of installation resonates better than a dozen hopeful speeches by local leaders ever could.

It's worth noting that expanding distribution doesn't ensure affordable gas delivery in and of itself. Many hurdles remain between the present and late 2016, the Interior Energy Project's target date for the beginning of gas delivery. The gas liquefaction plant planned by project partner MWH Global must still be constructed on the North Slope. Logistics and purchasing relating to the trucks themselves and transport of gas from the Slope must still take place. Local storage capacity must be increased to accommodate the supply of gas. And most importantly, residents must convert their boilers to operate using natural gas, providing the demand for gas that will allow the project to grow and delivered gas prices to remain low. From a pessimist's point of view, those are quite a few potential failure points. From an optimist's, that's a straightforward list of items on a checklist, the end point of which is energy relief for the Interior.

Up until Wednesday, though, there was one more item on that list, and it's now in the process of getting crossed off. What's more, distribution is an aspect of the project that must be in place regardless of the gas source, so whether the North Slope plant or Cook Inlet gas are in position to deliver low-cost gas, the lines IGU is purchasing will be essential for residents.

Whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, it's hard to argue this week's development is bad news.

___

Oct. 21, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Without more riders, Ft. Wainwright route far too expensive to keep

It hasn't been a secret that the borough bus system's Gold Line route between Fort Wainwright and downtown suffers from poor ridership. But a report in the News-Miner Sunday that calculates the cost per rider at $100 is shocking. Fortunately, the burden of funding the route so far doesn't lay on the shoulders of local taxpayers. But money wasted is undesirable no matter its source, and the stakeholders in the Gold Line need to figure out how to dramatically improve ridership or put the grant funds devoted to its operation to better use.

The Gold Line was unveiled with considerable fanfare a year ago, but it proved much less popular with soldiers on post than both borough leadership and Army brass forecast. With only a few regular riders, and sometimes only the Army-mandated security guard accompanying the driver onto Fort Wainwright, the route has been hemorrhaging funds, unlike other better-established routes in the greater Fairbanks area.

There are a variety of factors likely influencing the dearth of soldiers using the route: as the Gold Line runs now, its only off-post destination is the borough transit station, where riders must transfer to other routes to get where they're going. This adds an element both of complexity and delay, as routes don't always line up well with regard to a speedy layover at the transit park. Perhaps the addition of some high-demand stops for soldiers to the route (the East Fairbanks shopping district, for instance) would draw those who aren't opposed to riding if the line offers more of a destination.

The Gold Line is funded through a federal grant that runs through late 2016. But the fact that we're not yet footing the bill for the route doesn't mean we shouldn't do more to encourage ridership. In fact, the defined end date should be motivation to military and borough officials to make sure soldiers are aware of the line. Perhaps service members and their families truly aren't interested in mass transit, in which case the appropriate move would be to shutter the line as soon as funding runs out and consider the move a useful but failed experiment. But until we know that to be the case, it certainly seems like we could do better than the current level of use.

Make no mistake, mass transit is important to encourage both for economic and environmental reasons. The system serves to provide a lower-cost option to borough residents — especially those without reliable transportation of their own — at a lower cost than personal vehicle use. And the net impact of buses both in terms of pollutants and wear on area roads are considerably less than if riders each drove their own vehicles instead.

But a route that costs the municipality $100 per rider is unsustainable by any standard. We can do better — and if we don't do better, it's imperative that we cut our losses before borough taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.

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