The infrastructure wish list Alaska sent the federal government is full of Arctic priorities

By Nathaniel Herz, Alaska Dispatch News - June 6, 2017
The village of Newtok, in southwest Alaska, on Tuesday, August 4, 2015. The community has lost 3 miles of shoreline to the Ninglick River over the past 60 years, and is in the process of moving to a new site on higher ground 9 miles away. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is asking President Trump for $124 million to relocate the Southwest Alaska village of Newtok, which is disappearing as sea levels rise and land subsides. The request is one of seven infrastructure projects that Walker sent to Trump. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has sent President Donald Trump a wish list of projects for inclusion in a potential federal infrastructure package — roads, ports, assistance for the state’s gas pipeline project and cash to relocate rural villages threatened by climate change.

Project located in or related to Alaska’s Arctic figure prominently in the list.

Walker sent the seven-item list to Trump and Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, on May 15. That was two weeks before Trump said he would pull out of the Paris accord on climate change, a move followed by a muted statement from Walker on the announcement.

The letters and list were obtained through a public records request to Walker’s office.

Walker’s seven requests are:

• An expedited state-federal land exchange to hurry construction of the road between King Cove and Cold Bay through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, on the Alaska Peninsula — a proposal rejected by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

[New interior secretary brings new hope for a road out of King Cove]

• $124 million to help relocate the erosion-threatened Southwest Alaska village of Newtok. The village is disappearing as sea levels rise and land sinks, though Walker doesn’t mention climate change in his letter to Trump, who has claimed that global warming is a hoax.

[Read about the creep of climate change in Newtok]

• Federal loan guarantees, faster environmental permitting and investment for AKLNG, the proposed $43 billion natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas export project that would run from Alaska’s North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula.

• Permits, planning assistance and cash or low-interest loans for a proposed new road project that would run through the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the North Slope. The road, at a cost of $300 million or more, would run from Utqiaġvik, the town formerly known as Barrow, to the village of Nuiqsut.

• $125 million to finished the stalled rail extension to Port MacKenzie, across the Knik Arm from Anchorage.

[New Alaska rail line just ends in a forest after consuming $184 million]

• Money or low-interest loans to help rebuild the aging Port of Anchorage, as well as a resolution to Anchorage’s long-running lawsuit against the federal Maritime Administration, or MARAD, over bungled work on the project.

Containers are off loaded from Matson and Tote cargo ships at the Port of Anchorage on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)
Containers are off-loaded from cargo ships at the Port of Anchorage last year. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

• Construction of a naval base and expansion of Coast Guard operations in Alaska — an effort that Walker’s administration predicts could ultimately cost as much as $30 billion just for the first phase. Walker’s current request is for a defense department report assessing “future security requirements” for Arctic ports, as well as “timely designation of one or more strategic Arctic ports in Alaska.”

Walker’s letter to Mulvaney ends with what Walker calls three “additional areas of need in Alaska”: basic sewer and water infrastructure, since 3,300 rural Alaska homes lack flush toilets and running water; assistance for relocating Kivalina, Shaktoolik and Shishmaref, three more erosion-threatened coastal villages; and support for enhanced broadband internet across the state.

Trump touted his plans for a $1 trillion infrastructure package while campaigning, but has yet to lay out a concrete proposal.

He’s expected give a speech Wednesday as part of an “infrastructure week” in which he’ll lay out broad plans for more state, city and corporate spending on infrastructure — instead of cash from the federal government, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Walker said in his letter to Mulvaney that he expects to send more lists with additional energy, transportation and municipal projects “in the coming months.” Walker has already solicited ideas for additional proposals from local officials across the state, distributing a letter that asks for nominations.