PUBLISHED: 2:54 PM on Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Legislative Roundup
Scottish Rite Temple eyed for Capitol expansion

The downtown Juneau Scottish Rite Temple could be the future site for additional offices or a parking garage for the Alaska Legislature.

City Manager Rod Swope said the city is interested in buying the building and then selling it to the Alaska Legislature for $1, with the condition that the Legislature not sell the building for a profit.

"Anything we can do to help the Legislature and be a better capital city is a priority for us," Swope said.

The four-story concrete temple with stucco walls has been used by Juneau Freemasons and nonprofit organizations since it was christened in 1928.

Swope said the building's price tag is $750,000. The Juneau Assembly would need to authorize Swope to negotiate the purchase and then the Assembly would have the final say in appropriating money for the sale, he added.

Juneau Scottish Rite General Secretary Dan McCrummen said the building is too large for the Masons' current needs.

"The long-term plan would be to relocate to a smaller facility, probably outside the downtown area," he said.

The temple, anchored on the corner of Fourth and Seward streets, includes a lodge room, a ballroom, a kitchen and dinning room and office spaces.

McCrummen said the building in its heyday was regularly booked for community events. Now, it mainly sees dancers attending daily classes run by Juneau Dance Unlimited on the second floor.

"It's just not used like it was 50 years ago," McCrummen said.

The city is considering buying the Scottish Rite Temple and selling it to the state for $1.

Members of Legislative Council toured the temple last week. Their chairman, Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said in the coming weeks the panel will evaluate the costs of upgrading the building to accommodate offices.

"We're still brainstorming on what we could use the building for," Kott said.

Besides rooms for offices and committee meetings, the building could house the governor's office, or be razed and turned into a parking garage.

Costs to retrofit the building may be in the neighborhood of $1 million and $1.5 million, with a construction span of eight to 10 months, Kott said.

"I don't think we should look a gift horse in the mouth," said Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau.

Weyhrauch expects some legislators bent on moving the Legislature to Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to oppose funding for the building.

For decades, lawmakers and state residents have discussed building a new capitol, as the current building presents maintenance and space problems.

'Meth-ijuana' bill to change

An Alaska Legislature conference committee last week discussed changes to a bill that aims to curb home methamphetamine labs and make any possession of marijuana illegal.

A meth-related provision in the recently passed USA Patriot Act will likely clear the road for the House, which insists drugstores should keep logs of purchasers, said House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. The Senate is opposed to the log books.

Several members of the six-member conference committee, including Coghill, say they feel strongly that pot should be criminalized.

But he said he expects amendments favoring some marijuana possession or removing all language referring to marijuana to make it a separate bill.

The committee met briefly Tuesday, April 4, to vote on the two versions, which were not accepted. To add amendments, the committee will seek limited free powers from its respective bodies this week.

The House version unanimously passed last year contained ways to combat meth manufacturing but didn't mention anything about pot.

The legislation became an omnibus drug bill after the Senate Finance Committee merged a separate piece of legislation criminalizing pot into the meth bill in January.

The governor said the marijuana bill is a "must-pass" legislation.

Several House representatives have cried foul over the Senate adding a significant portion of the bill that was never heard in House committee meetings.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, will propose that the bill allow Alaskans to legally possess up to an ounce and criminalize any amounts above that limit.

The Alaska Supreme Court, starting with a groundbreaking case in 1975, has ruled that a privacy clause in the Alaska Constitution allows state residents to possess marijuana in their homes.

The current limit for possession is 4 ounces.

The bill would make possession of 4 ounces or more a felony and less than 4 ounces a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Canadian pipeline casts some doubts on Alaska project

Oil producers' commitment to building a Canadian natural gas pipeline has Alaska legislators asking whether they will follow through with this state's gas pipeline next.

The $7.5 billion Mackenzie Valley project is slated for construction next year and will be completed by 2011, Canada's Northwest Territories Minister Brandon Bell said Monday at a news conference.

The Mackenzie Valley line is expected to deliver 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day across 800 miles from the northern coast to a pipeline hub in Alberta.

The Canadian project is considerably smaller than Alaska's $25 billion pipeline, which would deliver North Slope natural gas to markets in the Midwest. The line would deliver 4 billion cubic feet per day.

Chuck Logsdon, Gov. Frank Murkowski's spokesman for gas pipeline issues, said if an agreement is reached this year with the three producers - ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP - construction should begin in 2011 with gas flowing in 2015.

At this point, the Mackenzie project should not cut into the schedule for Alaska's pipeline, Logsdon said.

"That's their optimistic view," said Jomo Stewart, spokesman for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, which supports a rival proposal to build an in-state line from the North Slope to a liquefied natural gas facility in Valdez.

Land issues in Canada with Native tribes still need to be settled. If the project is delayed until Alaska begins work on its pipeline, the two projects could compete for steel and labor, Stewart said.

If company resources are drained to make the Mackenzie project possible, Stewart said producers may be too "exhausted" to build Alaska's line.

Legislators not privy to the confidential negotiations for Alaska's pipeline said they are hearing that the contract would not require producers to build the pipeline, leaving a window for them to back out.

Reported by the Juneau Empire