District 6, under the new redistricting map, stretches West to East from Sutton to Glennallen, then South to North from Valdez to Delta Junction along the West side of the Richardson Highway. [R] Eric Feige, a commercial air pilot, knows the territory well, he’s represented most of it during his one term in the state House as district 12 representative.
“You know if you are going to try to accomplish things in the legislature, you have to at least appreciate — you can have your own opinion, certainly — but you have to appreciate that the other guy has an opinion, and you have to be able toward balancing your own needs, wants and desires and your district’s needs, wants and desires, with what the other guy wants, ” Feige says.
Feige is a tall man with a serious demeanor, bespeaking his nine years in the military. He is both a West Point graduate and teacher . As a pilot, he owned and operated a flight service in Aniak, flew commercially for NAC and moved his family to Chickaloon about twelve years ago. He says the population of his big district is split – half west of Glennallen and half along the Richardson – but all of it needs affordable energy.
“We need to, as a state, to come up with other ways to provide energy to our state. The legislature has already taken a step toward building the Susitna Hydro Dam. Within my district, I got some money for the Copper Valley Electric Association last year for a study the potential for putting a dam on the Tiekel River. And indications are that it will be able to produce enough power year round to certainly carry the entire Glennallen-Valdez electrical grid, ” Feige says.
Jamey Duhamel, says she was raised in an Alaska military family, born on Anchorage’s Elmendorf Air Force Base. She and her family now reside in Sutton, Duhamel says,
“Where we have a nice little humble piece of land, where we are raising chickens and vegetables and just trying to teach our kids to live off the land a bit. “
She’s an outspoken mother of four, and has a background in social work and citizen advocacy. The race is Duhamel’s first foray into state politics. She says she’s well aware of the needs of Alaska’s families
“For the majority of the district, it is energy. The natural gas line to Valdez is a critical project, that we need to move forward with immediately. It will serve and benefit the majority of the district along the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Valdez. On the other side of the district, we are facing other types of energy development issues, in the name of coal mines that are intruding on property rights, and property values and quality of life issues, ” she says.
Both candidates advocate for a natural gas pipeline, although they favor different types of projects. Feige says the Trans-Canada plan for a large diameter gasline make most economic sense, although it won’t happen until markets are found for the gas. Duhamel would prefer an all Alaska gasline from the North Slope to Valdez. She says trucking natural gas to serve local customers is an option, too.
Coal development has caused friction among district 6 residents within the Matanuska Susitna Borough. Feige says coal mining can be done with minimal impact. He says
“The people of Sutton would love to see, by a margin of 75 percent to 25 percent, would love to see the Usibelli Coal Company come in and construct the mine that they have already had permitted for the last 20 years. But I’ve been to every major mine in the state and I know that modern mining methods are very capable of extracting the resource in a way that has minimal impact. “
Conversely, Duhamel, who worked as a spokeswoman for the anti coal group Mat Su Coalition, says development projects should tread carefully
“We need to be really mindfull of the development projects that we support. They’re not all created equal. Not all jobs are created equal. And so, I’m just not a proponent of mindless just you know a job is a job is a job for development’s sake. We need to make sure that the benefits outweigh any kind of negative consequences, and when they don’t, then we shouldn’t proceed, ” she says.
The candidates have differing views on the state administration’s plan to cut oil taxes, with Fiege taking the Republican line to cut taxes, and Duhamel siding with the Senate’s bi-partisan committee block to that plan.
Energy, and it’s high cost , is a common link in a district that stretches from tidewater to the Interior, and it could shape the outcome of this election.