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By LEILA KHEIRY
Daily News Staff Writer
After riding the airport ferry from Gravina Island on Monday, Gov. Sarah Palin said there was no "nowhere" in Alaska, and her frequent use of that term during last fall's presidential campaign was merely a common phrase.
Palin visited Ketchikan for about one hour Monday to sign a bill dedicating an extension to the Joseph C. Williams Sr. Coastal Trail in Saxman and to help open the newly renovated White Cliff building.
No news conference was scheduled, but the governor agreed to talk briefly with reporters who met her at the airport.
Asked whether she believed Ketchikan or Gravina Island were "nowhere," Palin said no.
"That's the term that's been known," she said, explaining why she used the "Bridge to Nowhere" phrase while campaigning as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
Although she expressed support for the project during her gubernatorial campaign, Palin in 2007 vetoed funding for Ketchikan's bridge, which would have provided a hard link between Revilla Island, where most of the borough's residents live, and Gravina Island, the location of Ketchikan International Airport.
That veto followed national criticism of the earmarked project, which mainstream media dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere."
After Sen. John McCain chose Palin as his running mate for the 2008 presidential election, Palin's acceptance speech and her later campaign speeches regularly referred to the "Bridge to Nowhere," and touted her decision to cut funding for the project.
On Monday, Palin said state officials still were exploring options to improve Ketchikan's access to its airport. She also said she enjoys visiting Ketchikan.
"I love coming to Ketchikan," she said. "I have spent time here" and hopes to spend more time in the community.
Until Monday, Palin had been to Ketchikan twice since her successful bid for governor. She came once for a family-day picnic at Ward Lake and another time after weather didn't allow her plane to land in Juneau. She said Monday that she had not visited more often due to a busy schedule.
"I wish there were more hours in the day," she said, adding that lawmakers didn't like it when she left Juneau while the Legislature was in session.
Palin also said the state was working on ways to fund various projects that would benefit Ketchikan, such as roads, water and sewage improvements. Her aide then told Palin they had to leave for White Cliff, where Palin - surrounded by members of the Williams family - signed the trail bill.
HB100 officially extended the Joseph C. Williams Sr. Coastal Trail in Saxman to include the recently completed South Tongass Highway extension. It was named for the father of former Ketchikan Rep. Bill Williams, who was at Monday's signing. After telling Palin he had "put on my best Carhartt" in her honor, Bill Williams told the governor "gunalchesh," which is Tlingit for "thank you."
Joe Williams Jr., a Saxman City Council member and former Saxman and Ketchikan Gateway Borough mayor, said he and his family were proud to be there to witness the signing, and appreciated Palin's presence. He added that his mother, Elizabeth, also had been a strong advocate for the trail.
Dan Williams, the current Saxman mayor, said his father was a spiritual as well as political leader for the Native community, and always taught people to respect each other.
The family presented Palin with canned smoked salmon, and Palin passed out pens that she used to sign the bill before they all stood together for photographs. The governor then went to participate in the White Cliff ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After cutting the ribbon with a pair of large scissors, Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer escorted Palin on a tour of the new offices. During the tour, the governor was stopped repeatedly by people welcoming her and requesting photographs.
"We love you to pieces," said Marsha George before posing for a picture with Palin.
Just before Palin left to catch the ferry back to Gravina Island, Kiffer told her about the recent Borough Assembly decision to use $500,000 of state cruise ship head tax funds to help fund a planned performing arts center in downtown Ketchikan.
"See, there's a lot going on in Ketchikan," Palin said.