Cordova Times: An interview with Sen. Lisa Murkowski
The Alaska senator spoke about broadband expansion, the infrastructure bill, and what Cordova means to her.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sat down with The Cordova Times during a recent visit to town to discuss how current federal policies and initiatives will address issues locally in Cordova.
Murkowski was in town to attend Copper River Nouveau on June 10, the Prince William Sound Science Center’s (PWSSC) annual fundraiser event for which she has been an honorary co-host for the last 15 years. The weekend also highlighted the synergy between PWSSC and Cordova Electric Cooperative (CEC). Murkowski says her support of both organizations takes a big picture approach to developing infrastructure in Alaska. The senator has been a supporter of expanding broadband access throughout the state and feels that Cordova has a special role to play.
“The innovation that has happened on the energy front comes about because you have a few key people that really leaned into the future,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski has previously met with leaders at CEC to better understand the challenges of broadband connections in rural places such as Cordova.
“Nowadays, you can’t just have the energy,” she said of the effort. “You also have to have connections through broadband.”
Staff from the senator’s office attended the recent ribbon cutting for CEC’s Radiance Project and shared words of praise on her behalf. Murkowski was one of lead architects of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act in 2021 and committed federal resources to build out broadband initiatives in Alaska. She says that funding these connections can be transformative for rural businesses.
One such example the senator spoke on was Camtu’s Wild Alaska Seafoods where she had toured earlier that day.
“When you talk to local owners like that about where their market is, and they are managing customers in Asia, you’ve got to have that ability to connect or your business is limited,” she said.
Murkowski also spoke on challenges related to the ferry system, another vital part of Cordova’s infrastructure. She says that during the creation of the Infrastructure Bill there was a lot of focus on road and rail, but less on marine modes of transportation. Her office stressed that not every place has, or will ever have, a road system.
“It’s not Alaska’s dynamic,” she said. “So many of our communities are connected by our waterways and in order to be connected we have to have a system that works.”
Mukowski says that the process of including Alaska interests within the bill was an educational process for her peers in D.C.
“I told them if you’re going to ask me to support money for Amtrak or for public transportation in Virginia, you have to understand why the marine highway system is important to me in Alaska,” she said.
As a result, Murkowsi says she was able to help build a program within the infrastructure bill that is specific to Alaska. Within this program, federal dollars will be made available for the first time ever for the operation and maintenance of state ferries.
Murkowski says her office wants to ensure that these federal funds are equitably distributed within communities that may lack the capacity to apply for them easily due to a lack of resources such as grant writers or internet access.
“I acknowledge that is more challenging in smaller communities and more rural communities,” she said of accessing funds. “But what has been really helpful is to hear directly from Alaskans.”
A grants coordinator works within the senator’s office to assist communities with these challenges and answer questions about specific grant opportunities.
According to Murkowski, many of Cordova’s most pressing issues are shared by much of the state. Included in this are concerns over lack of childcare and housing. The senator says both of these topics are a focus in almost every community she visits.
“You can’t attract teachers, you can’t attract medical professionals … you can’t attract a work force if you don’t have housing,” the senator said.
She said that, while the issue of lack of housing is complex at the federal level, the new infrastructure bill has attempted to address lowering the cost of development by funding water and sewer resources, the value of which may pass on to the homeowner. Murkowski went on to say that lack of childcare and housing is more than just economic concerns, but are concerns for local and regional safety as well.
Murkowski feels that one way to address lack of childcare is to offer childcare providers better pay and encourage workers to see the role as a career rather than a temporary gig.
“We need to value our children as much as we talk about how we value them,” she said.
On the federal level Murkowski is addressing this issue by supporting The Child Care Development Block Grant, which aims to provide funds to help low-income families with quality child care while parents receive job training or enter the workforce.
While she was visiting last month in a mostly professional capacity, Murkowski said she always enjoys the opportunity to come to Cordova.
“There’s a lot of communities in Alaska and I’ve got to get out to all of them. But I have a very special place in my heart for Cordova,” she said, adding that the bustling fishing docks and sea air brings to mind her childhood growing up in coastal towns of Southeast Alaska. “Cordova makes me feel like I’m back to my roots.”
By: Kinsey Brown
Source: Cordova Times