Commission spends $40 million on utilities, economic projects
The Denali Commission, a state and federal agency formed to coordinate funding for rural Alaska infrastructure improvements, approved $40.5 million in projects at its Jan. 18 quarterly meeting in Juneau.
The commission will have $65 million to spend overall this year. That is up from $40 million last year and $20 million the year before.
Approved Jan. 18 was $18 million to Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, a utility serving small rural communities in Western Alaska, for improvements to electrical generation, bulk fuel storage and related equipment, as well as $7 million to the Alaska Energy Authority, a state agency, for utility and bulk fuel upgrades in other rural communities.
Previously, money for rural energy and bulk storage projects was channeled through AEA, a commission spokesman said, but the direct grant to AVEC was made with the state’s agreement because the state energy agency has reached capacity in its ability to administer the projects.
About $10 million was appropriated for improvements to rural health facilities. The money will be allocated according to a rural health primary needs assessment that was completed last year. Whether projects can get under way this summer will depend on whether permits and approvals from local communities can be secured.
It’s possible that 10 rural health projects could be going this summer, either new construction or major upgrades. Two regional health facilities on the list are at St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands, and at Metlakatla, an Indian reservation in Southeast Alaska.
In both cases money from the Denali Commission will "jump-start" construction, allowing work to get under way so that other federal funds can be tapped.
The commission also approved $4.5 million for rural economic development projects and $1 million for emergency medical equipment.
Jeff Staser, federal co-chairman of the commission, said the group’s work is concentrated on nuts-and-bolts infrastructure in rural communities.
"The work we’re doing is carrying out the vision of Sen. (Ted) Stevens, (R-Alaska), in creating the commission, that Alaskans work together to find the right solutions in creating rural infrastructure," Staser said.
Stevens formed the commission through congressional action to coordinate federal program money for rural Alaska. It is modeled on the successful Appalachian Commission, which coordinates federal programs in poverty-stricken eastern U.S. states.