Infrastructure law, supported by Alaska delegation, in turn brings big payout to the state

By Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon - August 23, 2023
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Mitch Landrieu, the White House's infrastructure coordinator, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday about Alaska funding resulting from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He praised Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, at left, as a "champion" for the state. Also speaking at the event, held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and focusing on rural broadband expansion, were Julia Hnikicka, the Alaska rural development director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau and Shareen Crosby, the state's infrastructure investment manager. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Mitch Landrieu, the White House’s infrastructure coordinator, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday about Alaska funding resulting from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He praised Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, at left, as a “champion” for the state. Also speaking at the event, held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and focusing on rural broadband expansion, were Julia Hnilicka, the Alaska rural development director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau and Shareen Crosby, the state’s infrastructure investment manager. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska has gotten the most money per capita from the federal infrastructure law passed in 2021, a message relayed at a news conference on Tuesday where the latest injection of funds for the state was announced.

Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, and officials from the Biden administration used the event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center to announce awards totaling $100 million for broadband service in three rural areas. That brings Alaska broadband spending from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to about $2 billion, the officials said.

In total, Alaska has received over $5 billion through the act, according to the White House.

The state’s three-member congressional delegation, all Republicans at the time, supported the bill, unlike other members in their party. Peltola, who succeeded the late Republican Rep. Don Young said the Alaska investments are “a reflection of how hard our congressional delegation has worked to advocate for our needs as a state and how well this administration has listened and prioritized these projects.”

She praised the Biden administration for responding to Alaska’s needs. “We are so fortunate to have this administration who really understands the challenges of weather, terrain distance, and really believes that we can work through these and overcome these things and find solutions to these really huge challenges,” she said.

The administration officials at Tuesday’s announcement, in turn, praised Peltola and her Alaska delegation colleagues. Peltola “has been a champion for the people of Alaska,” said Mitch Landrieu, President Joe Biden’s infrastructure coordinator. U.S. Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, who also spoke at the news conference, praised Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, as well as Young.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at a news conference Tuesday about infrastructure investment in Alaska. Also speaking were Julia Hnilicka, at left, the Alaska rural development director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Mitch Landrieu at right, the White House's infrastructure coordinator. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
 U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at a news conference Tuesday about infrastructure investment in Alaska. Also speaking were Julia Hnilicka, at left, the Alaska rural development director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Mitch Landrieu at right, the White House’s infrastructure coordinator. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon) 

The broadband funding, provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, is for three Alaska projects: $29.9 million to Bush-Tell Inc. for fiber service in the Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim areas, $35 million for Unicom Inc. for fiber connections in the Bethel and Kusilvak areas and $34.9 million to Cordova Telephone Cooperative Inc. for fiber and wireless internet to serve the Hoonah-Angoon area.

Tuesday’s broadband news was the latest in a series of Alaska infrastructure investment announcements.

Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Alaska and highlighted investments in the state, including support for the ongoing $1.8 billion modernization of the Port of Alaska in Anchorage and critical funds that are keeping the Alaska Marine Highway System functioning.

Also last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $44 million in grants to nine Alaska communities to help salmon habitat.

Beaudreau, at the news conference, spoke of how the infrastructure bill has helped address climate change in Alaska. He cited two grants for relocation work in the eroding Yup’ik villages of Newtok and Napakiak as examples.

Many Alaska Native communities “are on the front lines of changes that we see happening throughout the world,” he said. “Alaska is the point of the spear on, you know, erosion, permafrost melt, and extreme weather events that are impacting small towns and villages and communities.”

Landrieu said the high level of investment in Alaska demonstrates Biden’s commitment to the state.

He cited First Lady Jill Biden’s visit in May to Bethel, Peltola’s hometown, and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s current visit as other signs of commitment.

“So when you add up the visits of the First Lady, the attorney general, the secretary of transportation in mind as well, if you add up just what we did in last week, if you add up the 5 billion that’s already been sent for the 900 projects and the 100 million coming today, the only conclusion that you can reach is that Joe Biden and his administration care a lot about the people of Alaska,” Landrieu said.


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