Three interior legislators hold town hall event in Fairbanks

A town hall meeting was held by three members of the interior delegation to give community members an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 8:55 AM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Members of the local community gathered at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks, on Saturday, February 18, to hear from their elected representatives serving in Juneau.

First-term representatives Maxine Dibert and Will Stapp were joined by Senator Scott Kawasaki to discuss developments in the state’s capital.

“We’re your employee right now. That’s the way I see it, so whatever comments you have to make, we take those, and we don’t take them lightly,” Kawasaki explained.

Dibert said, “I love listening to folks in my district, hearing their concerns for Fairbanks, for our state, and it’s an honor to be a voice for the people of Fairbanks.”

Discussing the current work of the legislature, Stapp said, “Some of the priorities that we have been discussing in the house are going to vary widely due to our nature of having a bigger body of members, but basically starting with fiscal stability, looking at a long-term fiscal plan, trying to mitigate long-term fiscal risk to the state.”

After opening remarks, the gathered community let their voices be heard, remarking on the issues important to them and posing questions for their lawmakers.

Two topics stood at the forefront, gaining the most attention.

One was the proposed plan to haul ore from the Manh Choh mine south of Tok to Kinross Fort Knox for processing by using roads through the Fairbanks community. Community member David Cornberg spoke in opposition to the proposal, saying, “What Kinross would like to do is to turn the Richardson, the Parks, the Steese and the Elliott [Highways] into industrial haul roads at the state’s expense. We pay for the road maintenance. We pay for the bridges. We pay for the people who are killed and injured on it.”

While most who spoke about the mine opposed the ore-hauling proposal, a couple of audience members spoke in favor of the project, including attendee Josh Church. “I sure hope once this project goes through, that it gets the foot in the door for the next project because I want my kids to grow up and have opportunities, and are there safety concerns? Sure, but I’m not really that worried about four trucks an hour driving on the Peger [Road],” he said.

Many community members expressed frustration with the current state of Alaska’s education system, and the poor outcomes for students compared to the lower 48.

One solution focused on increasing education funding from the state in the form of a higher Base Student Allocation. Chris Villano said from the audience, “I think it’s a crying shame that we cannot support our kids and their learning and the support staff and the teachers.”

However, not everyone supported increased funding with at least one attendee asking whether more money was the solution.

The community also spoke about LGBT issues, air quality in the Interior, and the extent to which representatives follow the voice of their constituents.