Alaska delegation makes plea for Galena

Tribal, city officials ask Base Realignment Commission not to pull Air Force

Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

MONTEREY, Calif. - Admitting they "don't have the money for advertising" or "thousands of people to stage demonstrations," a tribal leader from the small Interior community of Galena gave a passionate plea to keep the Forward Operating Location open.

Dean Westlake of the Louden Tribal Council and City Manager Marvin Yoder had just a half-hour to try to persuade members of the Base Realignment Commission not to withdraw the U.S. Air Force from the town of 700, about 275 miles west of Fairbanks.

Westlake and Yoder both cited the town's close relationship with military. Galena served as a staging area for fighter jets, and its location was key during the Cold War because it is the only paved airstrip for 93 million square acres.

"We want to make sure the commission understands the distances we're talking about are huge," Yoder said.

The Air Force uses Galena to land jets when necessary, and estimates it spends $10.4 million to $11.3 million a year to maintain Galena facilities.

The Air Force helps pay for maintenance of the state-owned runway. It also maintains several buildings through a contract with a subsidiary of the Prince William Sound regional Native corporation Chugach Alaska, which employs about 44 people in Galena.

The closure of the site would mean the loss of about 100 jobs in all, Yoder said.

Commissioners questioned the delegation about their relevance post-Cold War.

"The threat has moved. We certainly understand that," Yoder said.

The BRAC Commission on July 19 unanimously decided to add Galena to the proposed closure and realignment list that the Defense Department released on May 13.

Two commissioners, Phil Coyle and James Bilbray, recently visited Galena.

The commission's recommendations are due to President Bush by Sept. 8. If Bush accepts the list, as he has said he will, it will go before Congress.

GAO says villages build houses for less

Construction costs less than with regional authorities, but may not be any more efficient

the associated press

FAIRBANKS - Alaska's village-based tribal housing authorities may spend less per square foot on homes than do large regional authorities, but construction by tribal authorities is not necessarily more efficient, according to a federal report.

The Government Accountability Office study said the cost of construction varies far more by region than by type of authority. Factors such as weather conditions and terrain type can escalate building costs.

Regional authorities may also have higher costs because they often use state funds and must comply with state construction and energy-efficiency standards.

Tribes may also comply with the standards, but do not get money from the state and so would do so only voluntarily, the report said.

Homes built by regional authorities cost $189 per square foot, compared with $160 for villages, the report said.

Congress had asked for the report two years ago after Sen. Ted Stevens said he was concerned about the efficiency of small housing authorities run by Native tribes in Alaska. Stevens repeated the worry at a hearing in April.

The Native housing authorities receive money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The GAO report looked at about $3.5 billion in spending for Alaska Natives over six years from a host of federal programs.

The regional and tribal authorities together built 874 homes and renovated 2,990 for Alaska Natives between 1998 and 2003.

The highest per-square-foot cost was on the North Slope, at $267, where permafrost requires specially engineered foundations. Second-highest was Kodiak, at $255, which the report noted is expensive because many of the island's villages do not have the dock space for building material deliveries from large ships.

The average cost in the Interior and Fairbanks region was $206. The lowest cost in the state was in Prince William Sound, at $122.

Stevens' spokeswoman, Courtney Schikora Boone, said the senator's office hadn't had a chance to review the report yet. It will do so over the August recess, she said.

The larger regional authorities are part of the Native claims settlement structure passed by Congress in 1971 and handle most home construction.

Village authorities, the arms of traditional tribal governments, have been getting more involved in the business. A federal law passed in 1996 gives tribes first priority to run government programs that affect them.

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