Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Massive spending bill heads to president, with millions for Interior

A $1.7 trillion spending bill that include millions for Fairbanks projects passed through the House of Representatives and Senate and hit the president’s desk Friday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured nearly $500 million in Congressionally Directed Spending projects for Alaska in the omnibus bill that benefit several sectors, from military to workforce, housing and food security.

“I’m particularly pleased with the funding we secured to help address those challenges, which will make our communities safer and our economies stronger,” Murkowski said in a Friday news release. “Other projects will strengthen Alaska on so many fronts — from climate resilience to wildfire protection, cleaner water, and a higher quality of life for our military members and their families.”

Fort Wainwright’s physical fitness center tops the list at $99 million.

The U.S. Army listed the fitness center annex as its top unfunded priority, as Army soldiers lacked an indoor track to train on during the winter months.

Fairbanks earmarks also include $2.5 million to the North Star Council on Aging to expand the Fairbanks Senior Center and almost $7 million for Presbyterian Hospitality House.

Darlene Supplee, Fairbanks Senior Center’s executive director, said the funding will be immensely beneficial.

“This wildly generous gift provided by the passage of the omnibus bill, and spearheaded by Senator Murkowski, comes at a time of great need as the Fairbanks Senior Center works hard to ensure the safety and well-being of the 18,000 pioneers who built the amazing community of Fairbanks,” Supplee said in a statement. “This appropriation will touch every Interior senior household in a profound and caring way for years to come.”

The Fairbanks Senior Center has been securing grant funding for the expansion and has already started planning kitchen expansion by 2,400 feet to allow more storage and benefit the Meals on Wheels program.

The $6.9 million earmarked for Presbyterian Hospitality House will be used to acquire and expand a facility to provide a permanent location for the organization.

“The new building will help bring Alaskan youth and families together. It will be a place that allows for healing and growth. PHH serves youth in several ways,” said Ty Tigner, Presbyterian Hospitality House’s executive director.

Presbyterian Hospitality House provides residential treatment, mental health counseling and therapeutic treatment homes across Alaska.

Millions have been set aside for several University of Alaska Fairbanks projects related to climate change, fisheries and food security.

Other Interior communities also stand to benefit from the earmarks, including Healy, with the Interior Community Health Center getting $2.5 million to construct a health center.

“The impact ... will be to improve access to primary care services, including preventive health and oral health screenings, manage chronic disease and overall health,” said Cheryl Kilgore, Interior Community Health Center’s CEO.

Kilgore noted Denali Borough’s 1,600 residents lack a year-round primary healthcare facility.

The spending bill includes millions for other Alaska programs and priorities, including additional fisheries disaster assistance, creation of the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force within 90 days of the bill’s enactment and healthcare provisions for Alaska Natives and military veterans.

The state will also receive $39.6 million for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in rural and Alaska Native villages.

“This agreement will keep the federal government open and working for the people while delivering historic funds to build a healthier, more just, more prosperous future for Alaska,” said Rep. Mary Peltola in a Friday statement.

Sen. Dan Sullivan voted against the spending bill, along with 28 other Republican senators. In a released statement, Sullivan said he likes much of the omnibus bill, which includes several programs he helped develop.

However, Sullivan cited the spending bill’s 4,155-page size and limited reading time as the main reasons he voted against it.

“We were given approximately 48 hours to read and analyze it,” Sullivan said. “Decisions were made behind closed doors, many of which are clearly beyond the expertise of those making them, and the legislative process once again provided no meaningful opportunity for further input from Senators.”

Sullivan noted the bill removes one of his top priorities — purchasing the Aiviq, a small icebreaker that would have been home-ported in Juneau until new Coast Guard icebreakers are built.

The spending bill also removed $150 million in icebreaker funding, something both senators lamented as being done behind closed doors.

“By whom and for what reason, is not clear,” Sullivan said. “This decision could further set back our nation’s ability to provide persistent presence in the Arctic for years. This is a major disappointment for our state and country.”

By:  Jack Barnwell
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner