Alaska needs to plan its infrastructure growth carefully

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Through Veri di Suvero, Jenny-Marie Stryker, June Okada, Michaela Stith, and Dyani Chapman

Updated: 3 Hours ago Released: 4 Hours ago

Alaska is awash with cash from last year’s federal infrastructure funding bill, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act. Many programs are being launched, and Alaskan communities, tribes, and government agencies are applying for funding. This massive influx of federal infrastructure dollars is unprecedented. How we invest in our transportation system, energy grid, and community infrastructure projects will shape Alaska for decades to come. We need to be careful with these funding decisions to ensure infrastructure supports safe and healthy communities, thriving ecosystems and a livable climate for future generations. To secure this future, representatives of non-profit organizations from all sectors have put together some general principles.

First, infrastructure design, construction and operation must minimize the impact on fish and wildlife. Alaskans love and rely on our natural environment; Alaska Natives have lived on and in the rich Alaskan lands and waters for thousands of years. Our fishing and tourism industries need healthy land and water to thrive. New projects must avoid destroying habitats, introducing pollutants and disrupting migration patterns. Prioritizing ferry routes and applying a “fix it first” mentality to roads and bridges can help us ensure that as many ecosystems as possible remain healthy and intact. If we want future generations to stock their freezers and enjoy Alaska’s unparalleled natural beauty, we must not compromise the health of our lands and waters, and the fish and wildlife that depend on them.

Next, new infrastructure must help reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Plans must support lower-carbon options such as public transit, hiking trails, bike lanes and charging electric vehicles for transportation. We also need to move cargo efficiently. Fully occupied boats and trains produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than planes and trucks. Therefore, we should prioritize water and rail infrastructure for common routes. We must use the money that is available to make buildings more efficient, develop equitable renewable energy infrastructure and phase out electric vehicles. We now have the opportunity to kickstart and seed our energy transition. In addition, the plans must take into account the changing climate so that the designs do not fail under extreme weather conditions.

Ultimately, the infrastructure we build must work with and for our communities. Decisions about infrastructure projects should be open, transparent and accountable to the public. Communities should support the projects designed to serve them. Plans should always include safety, environmental and health protections, including climate change and livelihoods. All Alaskans should benefit from this infrastructure investment; low-income communities, indigenous communities and people living off-road should be at the decision-making table for allocations that affect them. We must prioritize public subsidies for projects that benefit the general public and not those that are primarily used by industry.

Infrastructure shapes our lives, so considering values ​​ahead of projects is the best way to ensure the future we desire. Eligible Entities – As you plan projects and apply for grants and loans, use these principles to guide your decisions. Alaskans – get involved now, ask for the infrastructure you want and need, and keep projects high. Would bike lanes or upgrades to public transit make your commute easier? Does your neighborhood need help getting your rooftops solar powered? Does your village need better internet services? What changes to ferry routes would make it more affordable for you to get essentials? Which rivers need fish passages to restore healthy populations? First, contact your local leadership – City Council, Mayor, and Tribal leadership. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Mary Peltola may also provide direction. Tell them what projects your community wants. Together we can prepare our land, water, climate and our community for a bright future.

Veri di Suvero is executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group; Jenny Marie Stryker is Political Director of the Alaska Center; June Okada is energy coordinator for the Susitna River Coalition; Michael Stith is Director of Climate Justice at Native Movement; and Dyani Chapman is the state director for Alaska Environment.

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