Earmarks Return with Federal Funds for Kotzebue Road, Rural Water

by | Mar 15, 2022 | Construction, Government, News

Cape Blossom

Cape Blossom, south of Kotzebue, site of a possible deep-water port.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

 Tucked in the $1.5 trillion omnibus federal spending bill are special requests to fund projects in Alaska ranging from water and sewer systems to a 15-mile road out of Kotzebue.

Budget Blossom 

Earmarks returned for the FY2022 appropriations bill after a 2011 rule barred members of Congress from steering money to their home districts. House Resolution 2471 (originally introduced as the Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act) was amended to include 4,000 earmarks. Of those, Senator Lisa Murkowski requested nearly forty.

One of the largest earmarks for Alaska, $27,662,000 in the section for the US Department of Transportation, is for the Cape Blossom Road out of Kotzebue. The project has been on the drawing board since the early ‘80s to bring a deep-water port to Northwest Alaska.

Currently, freight to Kotzebue must be delivered from June to September, and ships can come no closer than 15 miles to shore. Dredging at the existing port is considered impractical, but about 15 miles south, water as deep as 35 feet is barely a mile from shore. In 2010, the Northwest Arctic Borough made the Cape Blossom Road its highest transportation priority. Construction on Stage 1 was originally scheduled to begin last fall.

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A 2011 reconnaissance study estimated construction costs at $3.2 million per mile for a two-lane gravel road, or $2.4 million for a single lane, with one stream crossing along the way.

The largest single earmark for Alaska is $27,669,000 to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to expand the emergency department at Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. Another $37.5 million in combined earmarks to ANTHC are to provide basic water and wastewater service in Alakanuk, Galena, Grayling, Russian Mission, Stebbins, and Tununak.

Other large earmarks include $23 million to Mat-Su Youth Housing in Wasilla to construct a commercial building for job training of homeless youth, to be called the Carson Cottle Center.

Another $10 million is earmarked to demolish the Polaris Building in downtown Fairbanks. The former hotel has been vacant since 2002 and is now riddled with mold and animal waste, not to mention asbestos. Last summer, the Fairbanks City Council authorized spending $10 million to tear it down, provided that Congress supplies federal funding for the project. 

The village of King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula would receive $8.2 million from two earmarks to expand the local landfill and water wells.

“After years of ceding control over federal spending to the executive branch, our new process for Congressionally Directed Funding is already restoring Alaskans’ ability to help identify and address needs in our state,” Murkowski says.

Congressman Don Young requested a relatively modest ten earmarks. The largest, $7 million, would pay for a new fire station in Kodiak.

The amended “Consolidated Appropriations Act” passed the US House last Wednesday, with Young voting in favor. The US Senate agreed to the changes the next day by a vote of 68 to 31. Murkowski voted for the bill; Senator Dan Sullivan voted against, saying he was unable to perform due diligence on the 2,700 page bill, given only one day to analyze it. 

Sullivan requested no earmarks. Last April, Senate Republicans agreed to keep the earmark ban in place, but the rule was non-binding. Besides Murkowski, several other Republican members made special requests. For example, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, inserted sixteen earmarks averaging $40 million apiece.

Earmarks for Alaska total $190 million for construction projects, social services, and scientific research. The Southeast Conference gets $2 million for an electric ferry pilot program, and the Qawalangin tribe of Unalaska gets $2.5 million toward a 30 megawatt geothermal generator at Makushin volcano. The omnibus bill includes plenty of other federal spending not directed by earmarks.

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