Candidates for local offices met with the public on Tuesday November 2nd to discuss local issues. This annual Candidate Forum, hosted by the Tri-Valley Community Library, planned and facilitated by Tri-Valley High School government students, included candidates for School Board, Borough Assembly, and Borough Mayor. Questions posed to candidates were submitted by local residents in weeks prior to the forum, and represented an array of relevant local issues. Of particular interest to DCC members, candidates discussed their positions on coalbed methane development in the Denali Borough.
When Assembly candidates were asked if they supported extraction of coalbed methane gas in the Denali Borough, Cantwell resident Gordon Carlson’s answer was a brief “I’m for it.” Vickie Lausen and Rusty Lasell, both vying to fill a Healy Assembly seat, responded in more detail, pointing out the necessity of safety precautions. Lasell stated that while he was “not sold on it,” he was not opposed to gas development. He said that we should be especially cautious about development infringing on private property owners and near residences. Lausen acknowledged that gas development has hurt other places. She pointed out that at recent meeting it appeared that some residents didn’t want energy development on Stampede, but it was OK in Ferry*. The meeting she referred to was one that the Denali Citizens Council hosted on Stampede Road this summer with Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, Dan Sullivan (see below for clarification of DCC’s position).
Incumbent Mayor Dave Talerico echoed statements about problems related to Alaskans not wanting to see energy development occur in their own backyard, and indicated that this is a problem due to a shortage of energy in the state. He described the current Borough ordinance that provides some setback restrictions for natural gas wells and compressor stations. He stated that he had written and introduced this ordinance, described as a “middle ground ordinance,” that made some compromises that resulted in criticism from both gas opponents and supporters. Talerico also pointed out that he felt exploration was unlikely to produce any gas west of the Nenana River, thus development in that area was unlikely. John Winklmann, currently serving on the Denali Borough Assembly, and challenging Talerico in the Mayoral race, pointed out how strongly the Borough Assembly was opposed to natural gas development when the idea was first introduced. He pointed to the original ordinance that regulated coalbed methane development, and would have also limited any exploration or development east of the Parks Highway. He did not vote to remove these restrictions, which is what occurred with the current ordinance that Talerico referred to. Winklmann stated that methane development is possible here, but that it should not be done in residential areas. He stated that if development occurred away from these areas, he could probably live with it.
*DCC Board Members pointed out to Lausen after the forum that the meeting with DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan did indeed discuss the need for protections in all residential areas. While DCC has suggested the Nenana River as a clear boundary that would incorporate most residential areas, we have always maintained that gas development in any residential area is inappropriate, no matter which side of the river. Vickie apologized for her misrepresentation of DCC’s meeting, and clarified that her comments were only “meant to convey the fact that no one wants drilling in their back yard.” DCC remains firm in our position that gas development does not belong in anyone’s backyard.
To see how candidates responded to questions on other issues facing the borough, read the full reports below, including introductions, and candidate responses to other questions that may be of interest to DCC Members, including Borough services, air quality, land planning and more.