Senate approves fast-tracked disaster relief funds

Senate approves fast-tracked disaster relief funds

Money to aid those affected by Nov. 30 earthquake

The Senate unanimously approved to fast-track disaster relief funds to assist in damages from the Nov. 30 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska.

Committee Substitute Senate Bill 38, a supplemental budget bill for fiscal year 2019, passed 18-0 in the floor session.

“The monies in response to that (earthquake) damage appear to run out around the first of April, so this is a time sensitive issue,” Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, the chair of the Senate Finance committee, said during the floor session.

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This bill is what they call a fast-tracked supplemental bill, Stedman said. This is necessary to get funds out faster for earthquake relief from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that happened a few months ago near Anchorage.

This disaster relief bill would provide a $6.5 million to match a federal grant of $46 million. This would be a forward payment for fiscal 2020.

The bill would add another $21.9 million to the state’s disaster relief fund. As the governor pointed out in a memo attached to the bill, “The full damage to highways may not be known until spring.” The state may have to spend more money repairing earthquake damage.

Another $1 million would go to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to make repairs that were not covered by insurance.

This bill would also appropriate $7.9 million to the Department of Natural Resources for the purpose of wildland firefighting and related activities.

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Altogether, the entire bill is about $133 million rounded off, including the federal funds and about $30 million general state funds, Stedman said. They added $7.9 million to the Department of Natural Resources for the purpose of wildland firefighting and related activities because they are expecting a drier summer, which likely means more wildfires, Stedman said.

“This fast-tracked appropriation bill is stripped down to just the very needy items that we have to have appropriations for between now and the end of June,” Stedman said. “Unfortunately we’re expecting continued damage to some of our properties around the state during the spring thaw, and shortly there after. So we’re estimating … of somewhere around 35 million or so that will most likely be added into the future appropriation bills.”

He said more earthquake damage is likely to come since Alaska has many structures built on permafrost and frozen soils.

Senate Minority Leader, Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, noted during the floor session it was important all of Alaska was coming to the aid of Southcentral.

“The bulk of the damage we’re talking about occurred in Southcentral Alaska,” Begich said. “I think it’s symbolic of the position of the state and Legislature of a whole that it would be a senator from Southeast looking out and carrying the bill for Southcentral Alaska. We are all connected, what happens in Southeast affects Southcentral, what happens in Southcentral affects Southeast, so I just wanted to commend the body for taking up this piece of legislation and recognizing how interconnected we all are.”

This bill was just one of the supplemental budget bills that have been introduced this session. Gov. Mike Dunleavy also proposed another, Senate Bill 37, which involved moving money around from several departments, notably withdrawing a $20 million appropriation to K-12 education that the Legislature passed last year.


• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@juneauempire.com.


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