Congress approves $561M for Alaska military construction in FY2017

  • Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, speaks to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 23 about the work ahead to install more interceptors at Fort Greely and a new radar at Clear. More than $325 million will be spent over the next six years installing the Long Range Discrimination Radar at the Clear Station near Nenana. Photo/Todd Paris/For the Journal

Missile defense and fighter jets could be a just-in-time boon for Alaska contractors feeling the effects of low oil prices and state budget cuts.

The U.S. House and Senate each passed appropriations bills May 19 to fund a dozen projects totaling $561 million worth of construction activity in Alaska. Most of that money will go to Interior military installations to upgrade the country’s missile defense system and prepare for the arrival of two squadrons of F-35 fighters to Eielson Air Force Base in 2020.

The Senate’s $139.4 billion packaged appropriations bill addressed military construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending for the 2017 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The $81.6 billion House bill funds Defense infrastructure and VA programs.

Despite differences in other areas, the bills are nearly identical in terms of military construction funding for Alaska.

“The decision to base two squadrons of F-35s, totaling 54 aircraft, at Eielson Air Force Base and position Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear Air Force Station were major victories for Alaska and the nation. Not only will these systems play an immense role in defense of our nation, they also mean a significant boost to our economy and our local communities,” Rep. Don Young said in a May 19 statement. “Today’s House-passed Milcon-VA Appropriations Act lays the groundwork for these two important basing decisions and further supports the needs of our military men and women.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski added language to the Senate bill in the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee encouraging the Defense Department to “conduct outreach to contractors located in Alaska and experienced in Arctic construction techniques in the execution of the military construction program for Alaska,” according to a release from her office.

The intent language also urges DOD to maximize local workforce participation and coordinate that work with the state Labor Department and the University of Alaska to provide training for the pending construction work.

The language was pulled as the bill moved through the committee process, but was ultimately reinserted in the legislation that passed.

Despite Alaska receiving more military construction funding than any other state in the appropriations package, the projects are security investments for the entire nation, Murkowski said in a release.

“This funding bill not only allows us to obtain the resources that we need to support our military efforts, such as preparing for the arrival of the F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base and building the Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear; it also represents a resurgence for Alaska’s construction industry and thousands of new full-time jobs at a time when Alaska’s economy needs it most.”

Murkowski’s office estimates the projects could spur nearly 2,700 new construction-related jobs and more than 1,600 permanent positions.

Missile Defense Agency Director Admiral James Syring said during a February talk to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce that more than $325 million will be spent over the next six years installing the Long Range Discrimination Radar at the Clear Station near Nenana.

That work will require a 350-person man camp starting next year, with peak occupancy and construction in 2019, he said.

Syring added that the missile defense and detection upgrades in Alaska are all aimed at expanding the country’s defense mechanisms against North Korea.

He said he would expect local contractors to get much of the work at Clear Air Force Station at least.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

05/26/2016 - 9:26am