Alaska losing $102M in military construction for border wall

One of the 40 interceptor missiles at Fort Greely is lowered into its silo. An expansion project at the missile-defense base eventually will increase the number of interceptors at Greely to 60. Four more interceptors are based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Missile Defense Agency)

The Defense Department has finalized a list of military projects it will defer, using the funds instead to pay for construction of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Of the 127 projects at both domestic and foreign military installations, four are in Alaska.

The move comes after President Trump declared a national emergency along the southern border in February, saying his executive powers allowed him to shift the funds. Congressional democrats tried to block the effort in court, but lost.

Now, $3.6 billion dollars from military construction projects will go to building or repairing 11 sections of wall along the border.

“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a September 3 memo.

In Alaska, the deferred projects include an upgrade to a weapons training range and repairs to two power plant boilers at Eielson Air Force Base, as well as an expansion of a missile field at Fort Greely. In total, the deferred construction projects were worth $102 million, though according to Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office, none of that money had yet been awarded to contractors. Though hundreds of millions of federal dollars are unaffected by the move, it is still a significant portion of the military construction money Alaska receives in a given year. In fiscal year 2017, Alaska received $561 million for defense projects.

In a statement Wednesday, Sullivan said deferring military projects in Alaska to pay for border wall construction is in the national interest, and does not alter the state’s position in overall defense strategy.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense reconfirmed this with me, emphasizing that the Pentagon’s reprogramming announcement will not affect the scheduled deployment of F-35s or the build out of America’s missile defense system in Alaska,” Sullivan said.

He blamed Congressional democrats for causing the president to take funds from military projects.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” Sullivan said.

Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a spending bill that set aside $1.4 billion for barriers along the border, significantly lower than the $5.7 billion sought by the president. Both Representative Don Young and Sullivan, as well as Senator Lisa Murkowski, voted for the final spending package.

In February, Sullivan told reporters in Alaska he viewed Trump’s move to declare a national emergency to shift defense dollars as “probably legal,” but added, “I would have concerns, particularly if it’s coming out of Alaska military construction.”

Congressman Don Young took much the same position.

“Congressional leadership had the opportunity to find a bipartisan solution to fund border security that would have avoided the deferment of these (military construction) projects,” Young said in a statement Wednesday.

Murkowski struck a different note, saying she “hopes that we can avoid similar overreach in the future.”

“From the outset, I have noted my opposition to the diversion of funds already appropriated and designated for military construction projects in Alaska and around the nation. It’s unfortunate to see that happen and impact Alaska,” Murkowski wrote in a statement Friday evening.

She echoed, however, that the long-term prospects for major Alaska-based projects remain strong.

About half the funds coming out of military projects are at installations overseas, including U.S. bases in Germany, Korea, Japan, and others.

This story has been updated from its original version to include a statement from Senator Lisa Murkowski.

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah