Alaska Beacon: Fishery disaster aid and nearly $500 million worth of Alaska projects included in omnibus budget bill

Aid to Alaska fishermen, companies and communities was included in the year-end omnibus appropriations package that won final passage last Friday.

The $300 million in aid funding follows official disaster declarations issued last week by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo for Alaska salmon and crab fishery failures dating back to 2020, as well as some salmon failures in Washington state dating back to 2019.

“This will be relief for commercial, recreational, subsistence harvesters, all those who were directly impacted by the fishery stock crashes,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who helped write some sections of the legislation, said in an online news conference Friday.

The disaster aid also supports research and communities that lost fish-tax revenues and it includes a provision, the Fishery Resource Disaster Improvement Act, that aims to improve administration of disaster funding and gets money to the affected parties, the Alaska Republican said.

“We recognize that it’s one thing to get the disaster declaration. It’s another thing, then, to get the funding. And it is yet another step to get the funding out to those who have been impacted,” Murkowski said.

The money is a relief to those affected, one fishery organization said.

The $300 million in total disaster aid “is a great start for much-needed money to help fishermen and communities pay their bills,” Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, said in a statement. “We commend the Secretary of Commerce, NOAA Fisheries, and members of Congress, particularly the Alaska and Washington delegations, for their swift action and attention to this issue affecting so many hard-working Americans and family fishing businesses.”

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers is one of the groups affected by the first-ever closure of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery and the second consecutive year of closure for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery. In both cases, stocks are too low to support any harvesting.

Aside from the disaster relief, there is money in the bill for fishery initiatives, including research and monitoring in the Yukon and Kuskokwim river drainages and in the Bering Sea, sites where fish returns have been disastrously low.

Those provisions were among more than 130 Murkowski-endorsed Alaska projects totaling nearly $500 million that were included in the package as “congressionally directed spending,” what was in past years referred to as earmarks. Because Murkowski was the only member of Alaska’s three-person delegation to push for those projects, her office handled all of the requests from around the state. ‘

To winnow down the approximately 1,600 requests received, Murkowski said she focused on the items that appeared to address the most critical needs, largely water, sanitation, health and even trash management.

Her message to the requesting communities, she said, was simple: “We want to focus on the things that make your community healthier and safer.”

Among the projects that cleared the bar were those related to water in rural Alaska, including water, wastewater and garbage-handling improvements in the Pribilof Islands, drinking-water and wastewater improvements in Nome and upgrades to wastewater treatment on the North Slope.

There are numerous Arctic-specific provisions in the omnibus bill, some of them included as Congressional Directed Spending Projects, such as the $5 million for Ilisa?vik College’s work to complete design of a new campus in Utqiagvik, and some of them meeting needs specified in the National Defense Authorization Act, such as additional funding for the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies.

Included in the omnibus package are updates to the 19th century-era Electoral Count Act. Murkowski was part of a working group that wrote the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which she said will “make sure that we never have another Jan. 6, we never have the uncertainty that comes to what is the role of the vice president in verifying an election, what is the threshold for challenging state’s electoral submissions.”

By:  Yereth Rosen
Source: Alaska Beacon