Corps of Engineers projects increase spending in Alaska

Corps will award $444 million in contracts through 2005 - a hike of $64 million

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Two large military projects in Alaska and a transformation of the Army has more than doubled the U.S. Department of Defense's current construction budget for the 49th state, according to Col. Timothy Gallagher, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Alaska district.

"The program that the corps is managing (in Alaska) is at historic highs," Gallagher said Nov. 4 at the 2004 Associated General Contractors Conference in Anchorage.

For the last 10 years, the corps of engineers has awarded an average of $200 million to private contractors in Alaska. In federal fiscal year 2004, which ended Sept. 31, the corps awarded about $380 million, and Gallagher expects his district to award another $444 million through fiscal year 2005.

The $380 million awarded in 2004 fell short of what the corps had planned last May, Jim Hannon, chief of construction for the corps' Alaska district, said in an interview. At least $100 million in projects earmarked for that year were shifted to the corps' fiscal 2005 budget, Hannon said.

Some of those projects had changed in scope, requiring the corps to address the new conditions of each project before putting out a bid request. With other projects, bids came in over what the corps had said it would spend. Without enough money to fund the projects, the corps never awarded those contracts.

In an effort to improve how the corps estimates the cost of its projects in Alaska, the AGC and the corps' estimating and engineering group have agreed to collaborate.

During the AGC conference Nov. 4, Hannon said he was looking for volunteers interested in sharing their cost considerations for corps' construction projects, including the cost of materials, labor and insurance.

Like fiscal 2004, the corps plans to continue spending much of its construction dollars in Alaska during fiscal 2005. Gallagher told AGC that about $380 million has already been spent on the ground-based midcourse defense system at Fort Greely and another $100 million in additional work is set to be awarded during fiscal 2005 on such projects as a power plant and added security and communications systems.

Another large military project driving the corps' construction spending in Alaska is the Air Force's plan to station the new C-17 cargo planes at Elmendorf Air Force Base in 2007. Military construction projects related to the new C-17s includes building a dual-bay hanger and flight simulator, as well as utility and site upgrades.

The current Army transformation is also bringing millions of construction dollars to the state, Gallagher said. The Army is transferring 2,400 Stryker brigade troops and their families from the Lower 48 to Alaska, requiring new construction of housing and operational facilities at forts Richardson and Wainwright.

"Alaska does have a very strategic location," he said. "It makes sense to put additional highly deployable troops here."

As the Army is shifting some of its focus from Europe to Asia, an increasing number of troops are being stationed in Alaska, Gallagher said. He added that Alaska also has an abundance of land to accommodate the Army's need for training ranges. Gallagher foresees similar construction spending in Alaska for one more fiscal year. "I think it will wrap down after 2006, but that is speculation on my part," he said.

While the military's new construction needs may cool off after the next two years, the new facilities will require routine maintenance and repair. Such low-dollar projects - less than $5 million - are also contracted out to private companies in Alaska, Gallagher said.

The Air Force spent about $17 million on repair and infrastructure improvement projects in Alaska during fiscal 2004, said Joe Nolin of the Air Force. He added that much of the small-project spending scheduled for fiscal 2005 relates to enhancing anti-terrorism protection and ongoing taxiway repairs.

Randy Tyler, chief of contracting for Fort Richardson, said that on average the Army spends about $20 million a year on small projects.

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