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For now, funding safe for federal agency serving rural Alaska

The False Pass dock, where fuel barges land to bring fuel oil to supply the tank farm. Photo: Shishaldin via Wikipedia Creative Commons


Despite attacks from fiscal conservatives in Congress, funding for an independent federal agency working in rural Alaska has been secured for 2015. But Congressman Don Young said threats to the Denali Commission are certain to continue.

“Oh, I think it’ll come under threat continually. Remember, we’re far away and out of sight, and they don’t realize the good the Denali Commission has done,” said Young.

The Denali Commission was formed in 1998 to promote rural development with federal funds. It’s a small federal agency that works directly with prospective grantees—including tribes, municipalities and nonprofits. They now have about $80 million in active projects. Last Friday, the commission was threatened by an amendment tacked onto the House of Representative’s Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. However, APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports that the proposed $10 million cut failed.

Federal Co-Chair of the Denali Commission Joel Neimeyer says they provided for planning, design and preconstruction activities for the Nome hospital—and lighting for the breakwater in the Nome Harbor facility. But they do much more in dozens of communities across the state.

“We fund bulk fuel projects, power plant projects, clinics, roads, ports, harbors—that sort of thing. Many of the clinics in your region we’ve funded. Critic infrastructure needs for rural Alaska,” said Neimeyer.

The proposed $10 million cut would have taken money away from the 100 communities the commission serves, and the 50 communities waiting to be served, through funding for bulk fuel farms. $10 million could fund about three good-sized energy projects. But, Neimeyer said, due to the scope of the Denali Commission’s involvement, the impact would be much greater.

“So in reality, 50 would have to go find funding from some source to address this concern about lack of code-compliant tanks. So it’s a much bigger question than just three communities not getting them,” said Neimeyer.

In order to protect the commission, Congressman Young is considering the idea of the state of Alaska matching federal funds in the Denali Commission. That would increase funds for the commission, though the state would have some say in how that money is spent. Matching dollars, Young said, are more appealing to members of Congress.

“I’ve been thinking about this over a period of time and I think maybe the state ought to put in matching funds, so that we can match it with the federal dollars and then at least there’s a skin in the game on each side of the program,” said Young.

According to Neimeyer, a cost-share match already exists for some—though not all—of the commission’s projects.

Congressman Young has long asserted that keeping the Denali Commission officially detached from the state and other agencies has been the most efficient way to be sure money gets directly to the communities. However, considering the persistent threats, Young believes a federal-state partnership would better protect the money in the future.