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Fighting for neighborhood funds

By Rhonda McBride 5:31 AM February 28, 2014

Lawmakers warn of tight capital funding

JUNEAU – For the past three years, two Anchorage Assembly members have come to Juneau with constituents in tow.

Dick Traini and Elvi Gray-Jackson target lawmakers who live in their districts, but they usually let their constituents do the talking. The Assembly members believe they are more effective in making the sales pitch for neighborhood projects.

The Municipality of Anchorage has a long legislative wish list, and according to Traini, it’s easy for neighborhood projects to fall off the radar. Megaprojects like the expansion of the Port of Anchorage get most of the attention.

“While the Port needs to get done, you’ve got the neighborhood issues,” Traini said. “That’s where people live, and they spent the majority of their life’s savings buying a house.”

Traini, Gray-Jackson and the three citizens who traveled with them to Juneau all paid their own way, something the Community Councils in their districts appreciate.

“I have the full support of my Community Council, the North Star Community Council,” said Jen Clark, who is in Juneau to ask lawmakers for money to prevent flooding near Valley of the Moon Park. “Everybody knows, my neighbors – we’re all communicating on Facebook and really hoping we can finally get this issue resolved.”

Clark’s home has been flooded three times because of ice jam floods that occur when a culvert is clogged. Clark showed lawmakers pictures of water gushing out of electrical outlets.

The fix? A new bridge where Chester Creek crosses Arctic Boulevard. It would give the water and ice more room to pass.

Flooding is also a problem off East Klatt Road. Just as in Clark’s case, ever since flood waters washed into Susan Pacillo-Kennedy’s home, it’s never been the same again. Mold has made it impossible to live on the ground floor. Pacillo-Kennedy’s neighborhood needs a million dollars for road drainage improvements.

Cindi Squire came to champion Sylvan Drive, which traditionally has been more like a driveway than a road.

She’s asking for $4.5 million to deal with drainage issues, as well as fire hydrants, which don’t work.

In her visit with Sen. Berta Gardner, she showed pictures of a Valentine’s Day fire that gutted two condominiums.

“It’s absolutely horrible,” Squire told Gardner. “The fire department had to call in the extra units so they could run fire hoses from one operating fire hydrant a block away.”

Gardner warned that money will be tighter than ever this session.

“People need to adjust their expectations, and that’s across the board,” Gardner said. “In this issue, I would hope you finally get the full funding, because what doesn’t pass this year may not ever get through, so this is the time for a full court press.”

Gardner advised her visitors to write letters to the editor and put opinion pieces in the newspaper.

Other stops included Rep. Chris Tuck’s office, as well as Sen. Lesil McGuire’s, where an aide spent time listening to them explain why their projects deserve funding.

Tuck and McGuire helped get the dollars needed to study the problems on Sylvan Drive.

“Last year, we came down late in the session,” Traini said. “But Lesil McGuire and Chris Tuck were good, instrumental in getting that project moved to the design phase. So now we’re back for construction.”

The group also paid a visit to Sen. Kevin Meyer’s office. He’s co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, a position that can be influential in funding projects.

Traini and Gray-Jackson believe lawmakers get more motivated to help when they hear people tell their own stories.

But Gray-Jackson warns that it takes persistence. She said the Legislature did pass funding for one neighborhood project she supported, but the governor vetoed it. The next session they fought for the project again — and the second time around, the governor approved it.

“So anything worth fighting for is never easy,” Gray-Jackson said. “Mr. Traini and I, we’re fighters. We want to do what’s right for our constituents.”

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