Trump’s wall could drain money from Alaska military projects

Construction is underway at Clear Air Force Station on a $347 million Long Range Discrimination Radar complex. 2018 photo by John Budnik, U.S. Army.

President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to get money for a border wall that Congress refused to fund. He plans to divert $3.6 billion from military construction accounts, and that could drain money from Alaska projects.

This was exactly the scenario Sen. Lisa Murkowski was worried about when Trump first floated the idea of an emergency declaration. Murkowski said last month she worried about Alaska’s military construction projects, like the money Congress appropriated to prepare for the arrival of F-35 aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, and the installation of a Long Range Discrimination Radar system 100 miles away, at Clear.

“I have very serious concerns about why we would be seeking to take funding from those accounts that we have already identified as enhancing our national security,” Murkowski said in January.

Murkowski told reporters Thursday she doesn’t think the border situation should be declared a national emergency.

Alaska has hundreds of millions of construction dollars on the line, money Congress allocated for projects at Clear, Eielson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, among other installations.

Jim Dodson, director of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, said he’s trying to find out if any of the Eielson money is in jeopardy, but specifics aren’t available yet. Dodson said Eielson is expecting the first of the F-35s in the spring of next year.

“The facilities to take care of and maintain and support that activity has to be here,” he said.

By Dodson’s estimate, roughly $300 million has been allocated for Eielson construction projects that has not yet been given out in contracts. Those are the kind of “unobligated” funds that are vulnerable to diversion in a national emergency.

“It would be hard for me to believe that the Eielson construction money got caught up in this building the wall issue,” Dodson said.

Alaska Congressman Don Young posted a statement on Facebook saying he supports increased border security, but he’s concerned about the president’s emergency declaration. He said targeting military construction funds could be harmful for Alaska and for the military mission.

“A decision by any President to redirect funds weakens Congress’ constitutional authority,” Young wrote, “and we must work together to avoid ceding power to the Executive Branch.”

A spokesman for Sen. Dan Sullivan said he wants to review the details of the president’s emergency declaration before offering an opinion.

The president’s declaration nearly overshadowed the spending bill Congress passed Thursday.

The bill includes full funding for a polar icebreaker, the first Coast Guard icebreaker in more than 40 years. Murkowski said the bill also has money for Coast Guard housing and other infrastructure, including $22 million for Kodiak and $31 million for Seward.