$1.2T infrastructure bill brings billions to Alaska

Will fund ferry service, airport upgrades, broadband

Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the 2019 American Federation of Government Employees Legislative and Grassroots Mobilization Conference. (Feb. 11, 2019) Photo courtesy of AFGE/Flickr (CC)

Billions of dollars in the $1.2-trillion federal infrastructure legislation signed into law on Monday, Nov. 15, by President Joe Biden will help fund essential ferry service in Alaska, plus airport improvements, water and wastewater projects, broadband, ports, energy and more.

“It’s historic in terms of what it will deliver to the country in terms of infrastructure,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as she spelled out how Alaska will benefit from H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“People need to connect by water, air and virtually,” she said. “Our colleagues saw the need.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, called the signing of the legislation “a big day for our nation and its economic future.”

“This landmark legislation could not have come at a more urgent time,” said Young, who attended the signing ceremony. “This infrastructure bill represents what very well could be our last chance to make the federal investments necessary to modernize and strengthen America’s infrastructure needs.

“This legislation isn’t perfect, but few are. Like all legislation, this bill has critics on both sides of the aisle, but let me be clear: I represent Alaskans, and I do not make decisions based on which way the political winds are blowing. To quote my dear friend, our late Senator Ted Stevens, ‘to hell with politics, just do what is right for Alaska!’”

Among the transportation items is $1 billion for a new nationwide program over the next five years that establishes essential ferry services to support rural communities, including funds for the Alaska Marine Highway System, and $250 million for an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program, with at least one pilot to be conducted in the state with the most marine highway system miles- Alaska.

“In Alaska we don’t all connect by road,” Murkowski said. “Some of us have to connect by ferry,” and these federal funds will help to build out AMHS, she said. Of the $342 million earmarked for construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities progress, Alaska should receive $73 million.

The bill provides an authorization for recipients of funding under the program to spend on ferry operating costs. Alaska operators who previously received formula funds under this program in Fiscal year 2020 were AMHS, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Inter-Island Ferry Authority and the Seldovia Village Tribe.

The bill also authorizes federal aid highway funds for AMHS to be spent on operation and repair. Another $5.25 billion is allocated for the Low or No Emission Vehicle Program that supports the purchase of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses and construction of supporting facilities, important to communities such as Juneau.

Water projects include over $180 million over five years for water and wastewater projects in Alaska through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs.

The $3.5 billion earmarked for Indian Health Services sanitation facilities includes resources for rural Alaska villages in need of water and sanitation. Numerous Alaska Native communities still lack access to in-home water and sewer, and this unprecedented investment in sanitation infrastructure will clear all known project needs, Murkowski noted in a detailed list of bill-funded projects.

“We have talked about getting rid of the honey bucket since Tony Knowles was governor,” Murkowski said. “It’s pretty basic to have clean water.”

A section of the bill modifies the tax treatment of financial contributions in aid of construction for water and sewerage providers, to assist water and sewerage utilities in Alaska, so the costs aren’t passed on to consumers.

Furthermore, included under water aid sections is $230 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Alaska Native villages grant program in support of communities with new and improved wastewater and drinking water systems and to provide technical assistance to operate and maintain these systems. The increase in federal cost share will rise from 50% to 75%, and there are currently 245 communities in Alaska eligible for these grants. The program has funded first time water and sewer service for Eek and first-time water service in Shageluk.

Broadband benefits under the legislation include $42 billion in grants nationwide to states for deployment of broadband, with a minimum allocation of $100 million for each state, with a dedicated carve out for high-cost areas for broadband deployment and $600 million for states to issue private activity bonds for deployment in rural areas. An additional $2 billion for tribes through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program and $1 billion for Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure grants.

Alaska’s Denali Commission will be allowed, through the legislation, to provide the required matching funds for grant recipients.

Ports concerns include $429 million for the Coast Guard’s unfunded priority list and for childcare development centers. Designated funds will support Coast Guard personnel in Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan, plus an additional $5 million for operation and maintenance of these efforts.

Tribal climate resilience funding totaling $216 million is included over five for adaptation and community relocation planning, design and implementation of projects to address climate challenges facing tribal communities nationwide. Of that total, $130 million is earmarked for community relocation and $86 million for climate resilience and adaptation projects.

Some 200 indigenous communities nationwide live along navigable waters, which they depend on for travel and access to hunting and fishing areas.

According to the Government Accounting Office, at least 31 indigenous communities in Alaska are imminently threatened by flooding and erosion due to climate change. Tribal climate resilience funds will provide access to resources to prepare and respond to adverse impacts of climate change, including community relocation as necessary and supported by the affected communities.

Energy and natural resources funds in the package include $146.4 million for hydropower and marine energy research Funding from this program is used by the Alaska Hydrokinetic Energy Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Another $264 million is earmarked for geothermal, wind and solar energy projects to help with the deployment and expansion of renewable energy resources in Alaska. The legislation removes barriers of participation by Alaska Native and Indian tribes in programs that are part of the bill’s Energy Infrastructure Act. Also included is over $4.7 million for orphaned well cleanup, including Alaska’s legacy wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Funds for supply chains for clean energy technologies include $23 million for the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program, which sustains Geologic Materials Center in Anchorage.

Another $320 million for the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative will help in better understanding the quantity, type and location of mineral resources in Alaska, like the Yukon-Tanana uplands, and the legislation also reauthorizes the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program through 2031, which identifies mineral deposits and helps Alaskans map geologic hazards such as landslides, volcanoes and earthquakes, Murkowski said.