2014 Defense construction dollars going to Ft. Wainwright


The outlook for Defense Department spending in Alaska is the same as it is for federal spending everywhere: uncertain.

Al Lucht, deputy director for the Army Corps of Engineers’ 673rd Civil Engineer Group at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, said at a Nov. 14 presentation to the Associated General Contractors of Alaska that no major military construction projects are funded in the state through fiscal year 2017. He said he felt fortunate that roughly $35 million of work was funded late in 2013.

Plans are for seven construction projects on the Alaska bases in fiscal year 2014 requiring $103 million in expenditures, down from a projection a year ago of nine projects totaling $121 million.

The Defense Department spent nearly $300 million through the Alaska District of the Army Corps of Engineers in fiscal 2013 that ended Sept. 30, but just more than 10 percent of that — $33.5 million — was on three military construction projects. That’s about 70 percent of the $48 million that was predicted at the start of 2013, and a far cry from the Corps’ $269 million fiscal 2012 military construction budget for the state.

The tentative 2015 projection is for 2 construction projects totaling $51 million, if they’re funded.

A 2012 directive by President Obama ordered the Defense Department to cut roughly $500 billion from its budget over the next decade. That, combined with sequestration cuts has limited military spending.

AGC Executive Director John MacKinnon said that resurgence in private construction spending, at least in the Anchorage area, would help offset federal belt-tightening for the industry.

All of the 2014 construction work is planned for Fort Wainwright, Alaska District Construction-Operations Division Chief Pat Coullahan said at the presentation. A warm storage hangar is the largest project on the docket at $36 million. Contracts are yet to be awarded for all seven of the projects, he said.

A $39 million unmanned aircraft hangar is in the works for Fort Wainwright in 2015 as well.

Alaska is expected to be one of the six test sites chosen nationwide for the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft program, industry experts in the state have said. The FAA has received applications from 25 states to be test sites.

Clear Air Force Station, about 75 miles southwest of Fairbanks, will also get a $12 million fuel storage facility on the 2015 budget, again, if funding is appropriated, Coullahan said.

Missile defense spending is expected to be up in 2014, with 8 projects totaling $90 million. Last fiscal year, 10 smaller projects accounted for $18.2 million worth of work.

“A lot of work is going to go on at Fort Greely — not the best place to work,” Coullahan said.

In March, the Pentagon announced plans to spend about $1 billion over several years to add 14 interceptor missiles to the missile defense system at Fort Greely.

So far for fiscal 2015, $9.4 million worth of work is being planned. Coullahan said that while the $1 billion figure is impressive, much of the money would be spent on the missiles themselves.

Overall Defense Department spending on the Alaska District of the Corps of Engineers is expected to grow to $526.4 million in 2014 from $299.2 million last fiscal year. If that comes to fruition much of that money would be spent outside of the state, Coullahan said.

“The international program (managed from Alaska) is up; that is what’s driving the uptick,” he said.

District staff is working extensively on infrastructure projects in India and Southeast Asia, according to Coullahan.

By 2015 the overall project budget is expected to fall back to $367 million.

Despite uncertainty surrounding the Corps construction budget, Coullahan said the civil works and environmental programs in Alaska should remain steady.  Together, the programs tallied nearly $188 million of activity in 2013 on more than 250 projects. He said those totals would probably dip slightly to $155 million towards 240 projects in 2014 and bounce back to 230 projects valued at $170 million in fiscal 2015.

Coullahan said the civil works activity has been focused on mitigating erosion in coastal Western Alaska communities, where a lack of early winter sea ice has caused large sections of shoreline to wash away in strong winter storms.

“We suspect that there’s going to be some emergency funding to protect Unalakleet,” Coullahan said.

He added that the Corps of Engineers has been dumping armor rock along the shore of Unalakleet southeast of Nome on Norton Sound as fast as it can.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Reader Comments:
Jan 16, 2014 09:39 am
 Posted by  Former Soldier

Spending money on Fort Wainwright serves no practical purpose. It is the result of back door deals with politicians. If we want a military presence in Alaska, why is it so far into the interior? It would be like wanting to protect the West Coast and deciding to have a military presence in Phoenix, because that's how far from the coast Fort Wainwright is. I was stationed there for three years. We have only fought wars in tropical areas for the last 50 years, so why? Fort Richardson makes sense, it is close enough to the coast to protect Alaska, and it gets cold, but not 55 degrees below zero cold. We missed out on a lot of training because of the weather.

Now, I have been to 20 different countries and lived in 6 states. Fort Wainwright/Fairbanks is the worst place I have ever lived. The air quality is far worse than L.A., even worse than Bejing, China. Don't believe me? You can look it up for yourself. Fairbanks has a "fake" economy as I like to call it because it is most of their money comes in from the government and oil. So they keep getting propped up by these deals with the government to the detriment of the unit's readiness.

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