Bob Potrzuski joined a panel of five Alaskans to talk about infrastructure before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday (03-30-17). (Photo courtesy of Annie Hofler)

Deputy Mayor Bob Potrzuski testified yesterday (03-30-17) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski invited the Sitka Assembly member as one of six witnesses for a federal hearing about Alaska’ infrastructure.

Potrzuski, a retired social studies teacher, told the committee he was “thrilled” to be testifying.  His comments focused on why the federal government should invest in renewable energy.

“Sitka and other Alaska communities are currently similarly placed as many rural communities in the lower 48 were in the 1930’s and 40’s when the TVA brought electricity to Appalachia and the Bonneville project helped electrified the Northwest. Though we are blessed with abundant natural resources, such as rain and wind, the barriers to harnessing these sustainable energy sources are the staggering up-front capital costs. Federal assistance, investing in renewable energy infrastructure or adding energy to a national infrastructure package, is essential for future economic development and the success of our small rural communities,” he said.

Potrzuski recounted the events leading up to the expansion of the Blue Lake dam, when diesel prices rose and Sitka’s electricity consumption magnified. The federal government did not contribute funding to the project. Potrzuski described how the expansion is costing Sitkans two years later.

“Now Sitka is faced with other electrical needs: rebuilding an electric substation, rebuilding a major transmission line, overhauling the Green Lake Hydro project and rebuilding our emergency diesel backup power system,” Potrzuski said. “These necessary projects come with a price tag of over $14 million – all at a time when Sitkans are paying for our new dam. The support of the community has been tested, as electrical rates continue to rise. However, this significant community investment has ensured an environmentally responsible and renewable energy source.”

Other witnesses included Steve Masterman, the Alaska State Geologist;  Joy Baker, the Executive Director of the Port of Nome; Kara Moriarty, the Executive Director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association; Chris Rose, the Executive Director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project; and Della Trumble, Business Manager for the King Cove Native Corporation.

Potrzuski was joined in Washington D.C. this week by Sitka’s City Administrator Mark Gorman, Planning and Community Development Director Maegan Bosak, and the city’s hired lobbyist, Larry Markley.

The group later met with Senator Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Representative Don Young and staff to talk about Sitka’s challenges and priorities. They handed over a list of “shovel” infrastructure project  and advocated for federal funding for Secure Rural Schools, the Alaska Marine Highway System, payment in lieu of taxes (PILT), the upcoming Sesquicentennial Celebration, and a new seaplane base.