Murkowski pays virtual visit to Haines as Biden approves major disaster declaration after landslides

A white woman in a pink coat speaks with a microphone
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talks to reporters in the Alaska Capitol in Juneau after her annual address to the Legislature on Feb. 18, 2020. (Skip Gray/KTOO)

Snow canceled Lisa Murkowski’s planned in-person visit to Haines, but the U.S. Senator met virtually with officials and evacuees from a December landslide. The senator’s visit coincided with President Joe Biden’s approval of the major disaster declaration in Southeast Alaska.

Murkowski said she typically makes a few regional stops when she’s in the state’s capitol for the annual legislative address. This year, she said there was no doubt Haines would be a destination.

“The snow and the ice and the rain are not allowing for an in-person visit. So I’m particularly disappointed that I wasn’t able to just be sitting down and listening to the residents, being able to see for myself some of what you’re still dealing with,” Murkowski said.

The Senator spent several hours on the phone with Beach Road evacuees, Mayor Douglas Olerud, Interim Borough Manager Alekka Fullerton, members of the Emergency Operations Center and members of the Haines Borough Assembly.

Murkowski said Biden’s major disaster declaration will help Haines, but it’s not clear yet exactly how.

“It’s welcome news. What we know it will do is open up avenues of support at the federal level that you’ve not been able to access,” she said. “So, what exactly that means for the community of Haines yet, is what, working with FEMA, the mayor and the city will be looking to understand.”

The weather disaster in Haines was not the only hardship the region faced last year. Murkowski said she’s pursuing ways to aid the hard-hit tourism sector, including exceptions to the Passenger Vessel Service Act that will keep large cruise ships out of the state again this year.

“It is not looking as optimistic as we would like,” she said. “We have been pressing the Canadian government on this to try to allow for, not exemptions, but just let’s work some processes.”

Murkowski also said President Biden’s $350 billion dollar pandemic relief proposal is too large. She said she would rather see targeted, need-based spending, but supports additional federal financial aid for states and municipalities she said.

Alaska has lost a greater share of revenue than most states due to COVID-19.

“There is ample evidence as to why additional relief is necessary at the state, local and tribal level,” said Murkowski.