Federal package holds millions for Cordova

Koplin: Don’t expect money in hand until mid-2022 or later

Cordova, Alaska. Photo by David Little/for The Cordova Times

Cordova expects to see big benefits from the $1.2-trillion federal infrastructure legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden. However, just how much of the funding will go toward local harbor improvements won’t be known for months, Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin said.

A lot of the money is allocated for fiscal year 2022, Koplin said in an interview on Sunday, Nov. 22.

“I don’t see any real money cut loose until mid-year or later,” he said. As with any government grant or loan program regulations have to be written, applications made available and contracts awarded, a process that normally takes months.

“It doesn’t meet long-term needs, but it is a huge step in the right direction,” Koplin said. “We will probably work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the long-term goal of expanding the harbor.”

The millions of dollars already secured, plus whatever is granted through the new federal package would put in place the first major upgrades to the port since the disastrous 1964 earthquake, when the state replaced ramps, floats, lighting, meters for power and water, and pedestals in the north harbor, later transferring ownership to city of Cordova. Additional funding from the Coast Guard paid for installation of a breakwater at the mouth of the harbor to keep large waves, fueled by the north wind, from damaging boats in the harbor.

As far as dredging and creating more space, moorage or uplands waterfront property, nothing has been done since the 1964 earthquake, which raised waterfront property, Koplin said.

Assets already available for port improvements and expansion already include $20 million approved under a separate grant from the federal Department of Transportation for harbor renovation, plus

$5 million in bonds approved about 18 months ago by Cordova residents. That $5 million was matched by the state Department of Transportation’s tier one grant program. The city also has applied for another $10 million through the federal Economic Development Administration, Koplin said

The city is working on the current footprint, but will need more moorage, more dock space, more uplands, which is waterfront property, to expand for businesses that want to expand here, and Cordova needs more space for vessels too.

“We have cruise lines that want to come in. We would like space to provide for the Coast Guard,” Koplin said.

Cordova is one of the top five communities for placing fast class Coast Guard cutters, but we didn’t have the dock space, so they are going to Sitka, Ketchikan and elsewhere in the state, he said.

Expansion needs include those of commercial fisheries, including aquaculture. The Cordova area is one of the fastest growing region for mariculture, with hatcheries and seafood processors already present. Given the expanded facilities, Cordova could start benefiting from more winter jobs here, Koplin said.

“Right now, there is a small industry for kelp, but it is growing and we want to be able to grow with it,” he said.

Another big piece of the legislation will benefit energy and broadband interests of Cordova.

“In our best year, in the early 2000s, we were 78% renewable energy, and we would like to be able to unhitch from diesel fuel,” Koplin said. “Last year we were at 68%. And for the first time in my career I’m seeing federal money applicable for all kinds of hydropower. Thanks to Sen. Lisa Murkowski there is lots of money for hydrofunding available.”

Koplin also credited the congressional delegation for efforts to include in the federal package funds to modernize the Alaska Marine Highway System. The bill includes $1 billion for a new nationwide program over the next five years to establish essential ferry services to support rural communities, including funds for AMHS and $250 million for an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program with at least one pilot to be conducted in Alaska, Murkowski noted previously.

Broadband funds are also of interest, as Cordova Telephone Cooperative has been successful in providing cellular service, broadband and Internet in and around Cordova, all the way down to Yakutat, said Koplin, who serves on the electricity advisory committee of the Office of Electricity within the U.S. Department of Energy. The mayor said that to his knowledge he is the only Alaskan ever appointed to that committee.

The Prince William Sound Science Center will also be eligible for infrastructure funding for their heat exchange system, to heat with water instead of fuel oil, to finish their facility, he said. The PWSSC’s new building is currently under construction.

Meanwhile those anticipating receipt of funds need to be sure the supply chain entities are available to supply and deliver everything they need once the money is available.

“Where are we going to get the materials and the contractors to build these projects?” Koplin asked. “It’s a chicken and egg process.”

Businesses everywhere, including Cordova, are having a hard time finding employees, he noted.