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Infrastructure plan offers hope for Alaska’s economy, workers

  • Author: Ivy Spohnholz
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 16
  • Published April 16

The setting sun illuminates buildings in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

There has been a lot of news coverage in Alaska recently about the Biden administration’s actions related to the oil industry. One might think, based on that coverage, that Alaska’s economy is at risk of being shut down. However, there is much more to the Biden administration’s vision than just its oil policy.

In fact, the $2.3 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure bill can mean great things for Alaska — if we capitalize on it. The plan can bring a massive infusion of capital for states that are proactively preparing for a new economic reality and advocating for the changes needed to realize it. Alaskans should be working hard to position ourselves to ensure we get our fair share of those funds and projects.

The Build Back Better plan is an opportunity to:

• modernize our capital infrastructure including completing the Port of Alaska modernization;

• address the Alaska Marine Highway System’s capital needs;

• begin chipping away at our $2 billion in deferred maintenance needs;

• expand access to renewable energy which saves energy costs and increases energy security — a critical issue in rural Alaska where energy costs are extreme;

• clean up contaminated sites across the state — many left over from World War II;

• expand broadband and other internet access that are critical to health care, education and commerce; and

• build water and sewer infrastructure in rural Alaska, and more.

A revitalized Denali Commission may be a great mechanism for funding many of these projects. It is a trusted entity that has administered federal grants for infrastructure funding in Alaska for more than 20 years. Already closely aligned with the Biden administration’s goals, the Denali Commission was designed by the late Sen. Ted Stevens to provide critical utilities, infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska.

Forward-thinking Alaskans have already established funding mechanisms that could be employed to advance many of these goals. These include the Renewable Energy Fund, Marine Highway Vessel Replacement Fun, Microloan Program, and others are already established in the state. Other opportunities include capitalizing the Green Bank that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has recently proposed and working with tribes throughout the state to address rural infrastructure needs.

So, let’s not lose sight of the real opportunities that exist for Alaska and Alaskans. With a bit of effort at the federal level, the tangible rewards of this once-in-a-generation level of investment are impossible to overstate. The investments the Biden administration is poised to make can allow Alaska to move into the next phase of economic stability with the same momentum that built the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

If you share my belief in this opportunity, I encourage you to reach out to United States Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young and encourage them to ensure Alaska gets our share of the $2.3 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure package.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz is a third-generation Alaskan who was born in Nebesna, Alaska. She chairs the House Special Committee on Ways and Means and co-chairs the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Spohnholz represents House District 16 in East Anchorage.

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