Sen. Sullivan Secures Victories for Alaska’s Water Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today praised the Senate for passing the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), which includes several key provisions vital to Alaska’s water and wastewater infrastructure that Senator Sullivan – as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where the bill originated – fought for. Senator Sullivan was also able to include provisions for increased funding for harbors and emerging ports across the state, and language which encourages the development of a future deep-water Arctic port.

Among the provisions related to drinking and wastewater is a new water infrastructure grant program for small and disadvantaged communities. The program authorizes $1.4 billion over five years. Working in consultation with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Senator Sullivan was able to craft the program to specify that grant money go communities without basic drinking water or wastewater services, or communities with a drinking water system that fails to meet health-based standards.

“For Alaska, investment in such infrastructure is crucial,” Senator Sullivan said. “More than 3,300 rural Alaska homes lack running water and a flush toilet, which leads to serious health issues. This is unacceptable. One of my top priorities has been to ensure that the federal government realizes its responsibilities to provide basic infrastructure for its citizens. That’s what this bill does, and I’m grateful that my colleagues in the Senate agree.” 

“This bill provides authority for funding that would allow for the replacement of aging, failing and outdated water and sewer infrastructure in rural Alaska communities,” said Andy Teuber, chairman and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “The laudable efforts of Senator Sullivan to support first time access to indoor plumbing lays a path forward in improving the health outcomes of a generation of Alaska Native children growing up in remote villages.” 

More than 30 communities in Alaska do not have access to water or wastewater services. Funding for rural Alaska sanitation projects dropped by more than 50 percent between FY 2004-2014. If appropriated, this grant money will increase funding to pre-2004 levels.

Further, the underlying bill provides $100 million in direct spending in the form of grants to respond to the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Senator Sullivan worked to direct any left-over Flint response money to the new Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program and the lead pipe replacement program created in the bill.

"On behalf of AFN, I want to thank Senator Sullivan for his efforts to support safe water in our villages and in other communities in our country like Flint,” said Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives. “We are glad that the citizens of Flint are getting federal resources to help in that terrible situation. We are also very grateful Senator Sullivan listened to our concerns and acted quickly." 

Another key element of the bill instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense to, for the first time, identify national security benefits associated with an Arctic deep draft port and use that as a basis for determining feasibility. Currently, the basis for funding of an Arctic deep draft port is based purely on economics. Important national security implications in the Arctic, including Russia’s military buildup in the region, are not taken into account.

Additionally, WRDA 2016 includes the following priorities for Alaska: 

  • Arctic Deep Draft Port: The bill instructs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in carrying out the study of the feasibility of an Arctic deep draft port, to consult with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense to identify national security benefits associated with an Arctic deep draft port and use that as a basis for determining feasibility. Last year, the Army Corps paused the feasibility study of an Arctic deep draft port due to the economic loss of Shell’s withdrawal from the Chukchi Sea. This provision encourages the Army Corps to justify an Arctic port based on metrics beyond economics.  
  • Construction Authorization for Little Diomede Harbor: Authorizes: Federal: $26,015,000; Non-Federal: $2,945,000; Total: $28,960,000
  • Construction Authorization for Craig Harbor: Authorizes: Federal: $29,062,000; Non-Federal: $3,255,000; Total: $32,317,000
  • St. George Harbor: Language is included to expedite completion of the report for St. George Harbor and, if the Secretary determines that a project is justified in the completed report, proceed directly to project preconstruction, engineering, and design. 
  • St. Paul Harbor: Repeals section 2008 of WRDA 2007 to correct the cost share agreement. St. Paul Harbor construction was completed in September 2005. 
  • Elfin Cove: Authorizes the Army Corps to maintain harbors of refuge, which benefit communities such as Elfin Cove, which has experienced shoaling in its entrance channels presenting challenges to safe navigation.
  • Valdez Harbor: Removes federal interests in a portion of land adjacent to Valdez Harbor, allowing local development of this property.
  • Seward’s Lowell Creek Flood Diversion System: Extends the Army Corps’ responsibility for operations and maintenance for the Lowell Creek Flood Diversion System in Seward.
  • Small, Remote, Subsistence Harbors: Allows regional benefits to be taken into account when justifying the feasibility of small, remote, subsistence harbor projects.
  • Emerging Ports: Permanently extends the 10% set aside from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for emerging harbors. Emerging harbors are those transiting less than one million tons of cargo annually. 
  • Alaska Native Corporations: Allows Alaska Native Corporations to develop water infrastructure projects as non-federal sponsors.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to take up their WRDA legislation, H.R. 5303, as early as next week.