Federal program funds help growth in rural Alaska

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- New money from an old federal program is helping remote rural communities in Alaska pay for public facilities.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens directed $50 million to rural communities nationwide as the Extreme Unemployment and Severe Economic Depression Initiative. So far, applications from 16 different Alaska communities have won more than $14 million for projects, said Tom Rainey, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office in Palmer.

More money could come to Alaska as the Agriculture Department reviews applications from across the country, Rainey said.

The funds are destined for a range of facilities across Alaska, including a public safety building in Klawock, street lights in Kongiginak, a Headstart facility in Quinhagak and an updated health clinic in Galena. Applications also have been approved for tribal governments and village councils, Rainey said. The money will be released when they are ready to begin the projects.

The federal government will cover 75 percent of the cost. Local sources must fund the other 25 percent.

Historically, community facilities funds built infrastructure in the Lower 48. Stevens has expanded the amount of money in the program and Alaska is getting a larger share of the funds, said Sheila Selkregg, former director of the state Rural Development Office.

''It's a wonderful program for our state,'' Selkregg told the Anchorage Daily News. ''It's for severely depressed areas, and we have some of the most severely depressed areas in the country. Our unemployment and nonemployment numbers are some of the highest.''

Klawock's planned public safety facility will provide space for local police, state troopers, Department of Fish and Game and health and social services personnel. It also will create jobs, said Donna Williams, mayor and chief of police of Klawock.

''That's going to mean 14 and a half jobs that we don't have,'' she said. ''And they're year-round midlevel, not just cannery jobs, so we're pretty excited.''

Williams said she hopes Klawock will begin construction early next spring.

Klawock tried to get funding for the public safety building for about two years, before getting approval from the rural development office, Williams said.

She said she still does not know where Klawock will get its share of the funds for the public safety building. But the federal money is essential.

''It would not get built without it,'' Williams said.

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