- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Military construction activity continues to decline across Alaska, but work with other federal agencies should keep government contractors busy.

Overall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to have $410 million worth of work available on more than 400 projects in the state during the federal fiscal year 2015, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, according to Alaska Contracting Division Chief Chris Tew. That is about flat compared to the $416 million spent in fiscal year 2014.

Not long ago that spending would likely have been driven by construction at military installations across the state; that’s not the case anymore. Tew said the Corps of Engineers has $144 million worth of military construction lined up on 15 projects, a decrease of 11 percent from the $162 million spent in the last fiscal year. Much of that work was done at Fort Wainwright.

As recently as 2012, the Corps’ military construction budget was nearly $270 million.

Tew said the decline in Defense Department work has been offset by work other federal agencies do not have the capacity to do on there own, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While much of the decline can be attributed to an overall directive to trim Defense Department spending, some of it is also a result of simply less needs at Alaska bases.

“We sort of worked ourselves out of a lot of mission,” Tew said.

At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the sole construction project is about $2 million of work on an access gate, said Al Lucht, with the Corps of Engineers 673rd Civil Engineer Group.

Of $300 million appropriated for air base maintenance nationwide, Lucht said Elmendorf Air Force Base received about $20 million, and about half of that will likely go to paving the airfield and work on hangar doors.

After an explosion of military investment that started in the early 2000s, the annual dollar figures are returning to the historical workload, Tew said.

He added that he doesn’t see the contraction changing in the near term.

The contracts with other agencies also tend to be smaller annual appropriations as opposed to the large, multi-year contracts available through DOD work, he said, which can present challenges but are much better than no work at all.

“We’re in a lot better place than we thought we’d be in a year ago,” Tew told the audience at the Associated General Contractors of Alaska conference Nov. 13.

Work often comes up after initial projections are made as well. He said the Corps of Engineers led about $75 million more work than it first contracted for in 2014.

“There’s a lot more volatility within the Defense Department and federal government programs and projects than there previously was,” he said.

At $130 million, environmental work is more than a third of the total fiscal 2015 budget for Alaska and makes up about half of the overall projects.

Tew said the Alaska Division continually wins Army and DOD awards for its environmental program. He also said work in some of the state’s most remote communities needs to be coordinated with other projects to make them viable.

“It’s just very cost prohibitive to make investments in some of these communities unless you try to group them together and get all the federal agencies to cooperate,” he said.

The Corps of Engineers manages about $15 million of dredging and maintenance work annually across Alaska. Roughly two-thirds of that is at the Port of Anchorage.

Corps of Engineers Alaska Construction and Operations Division Chief Pat Coullahan said the Municipality of Anchorage’s construction project at the port will require additional dredging in coming years.

He also said the Corps will be announcing about 40 “one-off” dredging projects at ports and harbors across the state that typically don’t require maintenance, largely a result of changing weather patterns.

When the Air Force announced Eielson Air Force Base as it preferred location for two Pacific squadrons of F-35 fighters in August, Sen. Mark Begich said upwards of $170 million of construction could be expected at the base in preparation for the arrival of the 48 fighters in 2019.

Coullahan said the beginning of that work won’t be seen for a year or two.

“(In 2016 and 2017) some of the design work will be starting on simulators and other support facilities associated with the proposed F-35 bed down,” he said.

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Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, https://www.alaskajournal.com


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