Interior spending bill includes money for Alaska projects

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A federal spending bill includes $2.25 million to plan and start building the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in Fairbanks.

The Interior Department spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday also includes money for sobriety programs to be administered by the Alaska Federation of Natives; funds for the Bureau of Land Management to conduct oil leasing work on the North Slope and money for a new visitor center at Denali National Park, among other projects.

The cultural center, to be built on the Chena River and would include a new visitors center for Fairbanks, a Native culture center and an expanded Alaska Public Lands Information Center.

The center would be named for Morris Thompson, the Doyon Ltd. president who died with his wife and daughter in the Alaska Airlines crash off the California coast last year.

This year's funding for the center would be routed through the National Park Service budget within the Interior Department. Of the total, $750,000 is designated for planning, while $1.5 million is for construction.

The Senate version of the bill also includes just $3 million for the Bureau of Land Management to conduct oil leasing work on the North Slope. The administration had requested $5 million, saying it planned to use some of the money to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should Congress approve such leases.

The House Appropriations Committee cut the request by $2 million after Democrats objected to doing any work in anticipation of oil lease sales.

The bill, for the second year in a row, has $15 million for the Alaska Federation of Natives' sobriety program. The AFN recently advertised that it was seeking proposals for spending the $15 million it got last year.

Stevens, who called alcohol and substance abuse the state's ''great scourge,'' said he wasn't bothered that AFN didn't have a specific plan for the money. He said he would prefer that the federation take its time and look for the best proposals.

Alaska-specific projects in the Interior appropriations bill total $130 million. Other items of note include:

--$7.5 million for new visitor facilities in the headquarters area of Denali National Park and Preserve.

--$2 million for the Arctic Energy Technology Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sen. Frank Murkowski authored legislation creating the center last year. UA would also receive $1 million through the Energy Department for natural gas research and another $1 million would go to investigating ways of meeting new standards for low-sulfur diesel.

--$2 million for the Alaska Volcano Observatory to install monitoring equipment on Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands.

--$1.2 million to buy mining claims in Denali park.

--$800,000 to the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward to develop a plan to help endangered eider ducks on the North Slope. The species' endangered status could affect future oil and gas work. Another $357,000 would pay for study of other sea duck declines that could affect fisheries management.

--$1 million to the BIA to start work on a regional vocational boarding school in Bethel.

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