December 3, 2021

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Infrastructure bill to bring billions to Alaska for roads, ports and broadband. Here are some of the specifics. – Anchorage Daily News

8 min read

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that passed the U.S. House Friday night will bring billions of dollars to Alaska to upgrade the state’s aging highways and bridges, improve the struggling ferry system and increase broadband access.

Rep. Don Young voted for the bill on Friday, joining just 12 other Republicans in approving it. In August, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined 17 of their fellow Republicans to approve the measure. Murkowski helped craft the bill earlier this year.

Young, in a statement on Friday, called the bill “historic” and said it may be the “last best chance” to make badly needed improvements to infrastructure in Alaska.

Young and other Republican supporters were criticized by some in their own party who called the bill wasteful. Young said the bill was flawed, but few bills are perfect, he said. The bill should have followed a different path to the House floor so improvements could be made, he said.

Exactly how much Alaska will receive from the bill is unknown, since funding will be distributed by grants from federal agencies, officials said. Still, the bill contains minimum amounts for each state and in some cases, specific provisions that benefit Alaska.

On a per-person basis, Alaska will do exceptionally well when it comes to funding for hard infrastructure, said Zack Brown, a spokesman for Young, in an emailed statement on Monday.

Murkowski on Friday called the bill “one of the most consequential legislative efforts” she has worked on in her career.

She said it will help expedite permitting that often delays Alaska projects, providing $550 billion in new spending over five years without raising taxes.

Sullivan said in a statement Monday that Alaska is “infrastructure poor.” In addition to significant amounts of money for roads, airports, ports and water and wastewater systems, the measure contains “historic” amounts of money to expand broadband use, he said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration is reviewing the measure’s impacts to Alaska. The state is preparing for guidance from federal agencies, he said.

“Alaskans are generally supportive of measures that, under the right terms, build roads, ports, and connect the state with the rest of the world,” he said in an emailed statement.

Here are some of the ways the bill will benefit Alaska, according to members of the state’s congressional delegation and information in the bill.

Roads and airports

• $3.5 billion in federal highway funding for Alaska over five years, to build new roads and highways, and rebuild and maintain existing ones.

• $225 million goes to Alaska to address more than 140 bridges considered to be “structurally deficient.”

• Funding is available to help improve a portion of the Alaska Highway in Canada, between the Alaska border and Haines Junction, Yukon, and the Haines Cutoff that goes from Haines Junction to Haines in Alaska.

John MacKinnon, who retired in September as head of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the bill is critical for Alaska. The transportation department in recent years has been forced to take money intended for construction and improvements, and spend it on maintenance, he said.

“The state’s capital needs have far exceeded the funds available,” he said.

The bill will help change that, he said.

“This is a windfall for Alaska,” he said. “It will be a real opportunity for a lot of work for a lot of Alaskans.”

• Alaska will receive a share of $15 billion in formula funding for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program. The money will help support the installation and expansion of runways, gates, and taxiways, and improve other facilities.

• $5 billion in grants nationally will support a new Airport Terminal Improvement Program. The funding includes set-asides for small airports, like those in Alaska.

Jim Szczesniak, director of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, said the airport is reviewing the bill’s final details. It should provide funding to help the airport better compete for international cargo flights while improving passenger facilities.

“There are definitely some positive signs about what will be potentially coming to Anchorage,” he said.

The state ferry system

• $1 billion over five years for essential ferry service to rural Alaska communities, under a program proposed by Murkowski, according to her office.

• $73 million to build new ferries for Alaska.

• $250 million for an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program. At least one pilot program will be conducted in Alaska.

Young said the Alaska Marine Highway System qualifies for federal highway funding in the infrastructure bill, for operations and repairs. That will be a first and it will help transform Southeast Alaska’s economy, he said.

“To say that this bill is a game-changer for Southeast is an understatement — this is a once-in-a-generation investment opportunity for Southeast Alaska’s families and economy,” he said.

Ports

• $250 million for remote and subsistence harbor construction.

• Alaska will benefit from $2.25 billion for the Port Infrastructure Development Program. The program will provide support for ports of all sizes, including in Alaska.

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Jim Jager, a spokesman at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, said the bill includes an array of grant opportunities that the port may be able to take advantage of as the federal money works it way through federal agencies and to states.

“In the big picture, I see lots of opportunities for funding projects we have on our books that we want to build,” he said. “That’s everything from obviously the new dock, to things like a rail-loading facility.”

Water and sanitation

• More than $180 million over five years will support water and wastewater projects in Alaska through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, Murkowski’s office said.

• $3.5 billion will support Indian Health Services sanitation facilities. That will help provide assistance for Alaska villages without household running water and toilets, according to Murkowski’s office.

“This unprecedented investment in sanitation infrastructure will clear all known project needs,” said a statement from Murkowski’s office.

• $10 billion will go to states to address PFAS contamination through Clean Water and Drinking Water programs. The funding will focus on small and disadvantaged communities, such as those in Alaska. PFAS are manmade chemicals that have been widely used, including in foam to help fight fires, and have been found in the ground in some Alaska locations. They can damage the liver and immune system and cause birth defects.

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• $230 million for the EPA Alaska Native villages grant program will support Alaska communities with new and improved wastewater and drinking water systems. It will also provide technical assistance for the operation and maintenance of these systems.

The state is looking forward to meeting with rural communities to help them develop the capacity to operate and maintain projects, said Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We are evaluating the final package, which hopefully will be a shot in the arm for rural Alaska water and wastewater projects,” Brune said.

Broadband

• $42 billion in grants will support the deployment of broadband nationwide. The money includes a minimum allocation of $100 million for each state, Murkowski’s office said.

• $2 billion will support the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program in Alaska and other states.

• $1 billion will support Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure grants in the U.S., including Alaska.

In a statement, Sen. Sullivan said Alaska “is projected to be in the top ten in the country when it comes to money received for broadband build-out as a result of this infrastructure bill.”

Climate change, electricity and renewable energy

• About $215 million will be available nationally over five years to help tribes adapt to climate issues. Of that, $130 million is for community relocation, which can help Alaska villages where land is eroding. Another $85 million is for climate resilience and adaptation projects, including in Alaska.

• $145 million will support hydropower and marine energy research nationally. The Alaska Hydrokinetic Energy Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks uses money from that allotment.

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• About $265 million will support geothermal, wind and solar energy projects. Alaska will receive some of that money to support the deployment and expansion of renewable energy.

• The bill incorporates legislation from Murkowski that will make available $250 million in grants and technical assistance for small utility providers that are not regulated by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It will apply to many cooperatives and municipal utilities in Alaska, Murkowski’s office said.

Ecosystem and wildfire management

• $250 million for decommissioning, road and trail repair and maintenance and removal of fish passage barriers. Some of the money will help restore salmon and other fish habitat in Alaska’s national forests.

• More than $3.3 billion will be used in Alaska and other states for wildfire management, including tree thinning, controlled burns and creating breaks in brush and trees that can protect communities.

• Some $20 million will support construction and maintenance of public use cabins, including those found across Alaska.

• $100 million will support workforce training for firefighting and vegetation management. Native village fire crews will be able to take advantage of the money.

Other items

• $75 million for the Denali Commission, a federal agency that builds rural infrastructure in Alaska.

• Nationally, railroads will receive $5 billion through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Program; the Alaska Railroad will receive a share of that money.

• Alaska should receive $362 million over five years for a mix of transit formula grants available under the Federal Transit Administration, which support public transportation systems.

• More than $4.7 billion will support the clean up old oil and gas wells that can leak methane or other pollutants. The money will support the cleanup of wells drilled last century by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the North Slope.

• Some $23 million is provided for the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program. The program supports the Geologic Materials Center in Anchorage.

• Reinstates a federal loan guarantee of $18 billion to support the Alaska LNG project, a proposal that seeks to tap vast deposits of North Slope natural gas for overseas shipment to utilities in Asia.

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