Lawmakers grill Alaska’s gasline corporation on its budget

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, listen to Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, aduring a Senate Finance meeting focusing on the corporation’s budget on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), which is charged with taking the lead on the massive Alaska liquid natural gas project, is again having its finances questioned.  On Tuesday (Feb. 14), members of the Senate Finance committee pressed the corporation’s president Keith Meyer for detailed information about his budget.

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The corporation has been tasked with managing two different gas pipeline projects and the legislature appropriated millions into two separate funds for those projects. Meyer has asked for legislative approval to shift millions between those two accounts.

Anchorage Republican Senator Anna MacKinnon said the corporation has not been transparent about how the money has been spent, so far.

“What we’ve been trying to understand is whether you’ve been cross-pollinating those funds and we haven’t had access to any of the records to actually audit how you’ve handled those funds,” MacKinnon said.

The agency has about $102 million between the two funds. But as the state takes over the mega-project, lawmakers have questioned how the corporation will pay for the additional millions of dollars it could take to finish an application to the Federal Regulatory Commission, or FERC, and to buy the land its needs for a plant on the Kenai Peninsula.

MacKinnon and other members of the committee quizzed Meyer over the costs of the corporation’s satellite offices in Houston and Tokyo. Anchorage Republican Natasha Von Imhof asked about a $50,000 sponsorship of the Iditarod.

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, questions representatives from the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation during a Senate Finance meeting focusing on the corporation’s budget on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“And, how is sponsoring the Iditarod ceremonial start going to help you reach your goals of securing a buyer in Asia, obtaining a tax exempt status and applying for FERC?” Von Imhof asked.

Meyer said the Iditarod sponsorship coincides with a summit the corporation is hosting that will bring potential customers to the state to see sites where the gas line could be constructed.

“The attendees pay to attend,” Meyer said. “There are sponsors, we’ve got some very nice sponsors. We’re not done with sponsorships yet actually; they’re still coming in. AGDC is funding some of this as well and depending on how many sponsors, that amount may change.”

Going forward, Meyer told the finance committee that the corporation would be more transparent, including sending regular updates to lawmakers who sign confidentiality agreements. He also said the corporation isn’t planning to ask the legislature for any more money this year.

MacKinnon told Meyer that lawmakers needed more from the corporation.

“Mr. Meyer, I want you to know that there are people that I represent that are asking us to kill the project,” MacKinnon said. “That are requesting information and that they believe that it is not in the best interests of the state to move forward.”

An ongoing audit of the corporation isn’t expected to be finished until well after the legislature gavels out, but MacKinnon said she’ll have the corporation in front of her committee again this session.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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