Time to thank our friends for thoughtful holiday gifts. After the turmoil of the past year over the "Bridge to Nowhere," corruption charges against state legislators and criticism of our congressional delegation, here is the good news.
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U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens gave us a rundown Christmas Eve of the gifts that he, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young secured for Alaskans:
The $121.8 million for projects and programs in Alaska includes $25 million in Environmental Protection Agency funds for rural and Alaska Native villages for water and wastewater treatment needs. Within this allocation, $600,000 will be used to test a water purification system for remote villages, $500,000 for water and sewer improvements in Kodiak, and another $550,000 for upgrades to water and sewer systems in Wrangell and Ketchikan.
The U.S. Forest Service is budgeted $12 million for Alaska projects which include subsistence management ($5 million), urban wildfire mitigation ($2.5 million), Tongass National Forest sales preparation ($4 million), and the Craig land exchange ($500,000).
Alaska-based Department of Interior programs funded, thanks to Stevens, include: Yukon Flats Land Exchange, $400,000; Kenai Fjords Multi-Agency Center, $2 million for construction in Seward.
Congress approved $4 million for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, critical to the safety of air travelers.
Bureau of Land Management received $37 million to survey Native allotments, state and Native land selections, and to expedite conveyance.
The omnibus appropriations bill provided the Indian Health Service with $12.6 million to build a hospital in Barrow and $15 million for substance abuse programs in Alaska.
The Alaska Federal Health Care Network, a system started by Stevens, will receive $3.5 million. This network consolidates the health care responsibilities so that the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs do not each have to have their own facilities to distribute health care services to rural Alaskans. The Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network now has 235 sites across Alaska, including almost all villages.
The city of Anchorage will receive $700,000 for Mountain View revitalization.
Appropriations include $562,000 for the Cape Nome quarry upgrade.
The spending bill includes more than $34 million for dozens of health and education projects throughout Alaska from the North Slope School District ($232,000) to the Southeast Island School District ($97,000).
More than $150 million is provided for transportation projects in Alaska from essential air service to ferries and the railroad.
A dozen Alaska water projects were funded including $15 million for Anchorage Harbor dredging and ranging across the state from harbors from Ketchikan ($564,000) to Barrow ($400,000).
Funds were secured to address coastal erosion in Alaska.
Congress approved more than $150 million for military construction in Alaska.
Congress approved funds for a new meth task force in Alaska.
Congress continued funding the Pacific Salmon Commission and provided funds for 17 other ocean programs in Alaska.
Stevens obtained $90 million for his Denali Commission to build rural infrastructure.
So thank you, Ted, Lisa and Don, for a Merry Christmas.
Less publicized but important to Alaska were sections of the energy bill signed by the president, although Young said the overall bill was a disaster and introduced his own. The energy bill created a renewable energy program authored by Murkowski, with Stevens as co-sponsor, that would provide federal grants of up to 50 percent for any projects in Alaska using wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, ocean (wave tidal and current) and hydro under 15 megawatts.
Alaska fared better than expected on Capitol Hill in 2007 according to John Katz, Alaska's longtime Washington office director. He told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that Democrats tried, but failed, to attach riders to the appropriations bill that would have restricted oil and gas development in Bristol Bay, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They tried to bar road construction in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest.
But thanks to our congressional delegation, Alaskans enjoyed a Merry Christmas.