Alaska losing $102M in military construction for wall on U.S.-Mexico border

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Cover of a silo housing a ground-based interceptor missile at the Ft. Greely missile defense complex in Fort Greely, Alaska, U.S., April 26, 2018. An expansion project of Fort Greely’s missile field has been deferred to fund construction on the wall to the Mexican border. (Mark Meyer/Reuters)
The U.S. Defense Department has finalized a list of military projects it will defer, using the funds instead to pay for construction of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Of the 127 projects at both domestic and foreign military installations, four are in Alaska.

The move comes after President Trump declared a national emergency along the southern border in February, saying his executive powers allowed him to shift the funds. Congressional democrats tried to block the effort in court, but lost.

Now, $3.6 billion dollars from military construction projects will go to building or repairing 11 sections of wall along the border.

“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a September 3 memo.

In Alaska, the deferred projects include an upgrade to a weapons training range and repairs to two power plant boilers at Eielson Air Force Base, as well as an expansion of a missile field at Fort Greely. In total, the deferred construction projects were worth $102 million, though according to Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office, none of that money had yet been awarded to contractors. Though hundreds of millions of federal dollars are unaffected by the move, it is still a significant portion of the military construction money Alaska receives in a given year. In fiscal year 2017, Alaska received $561 million for defense projects.

‘In the national interest’, senator says

In a statement Wednesday, Sullivan said deferring military projects in Alaska to pay for border wall construction is in the national interest, and does not alter the state’s position in overall defense strategy.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense reconfirmed this with me, emphasizing that the Pentagon’s reprogramming announcement will not affect the scheduled deployment of F-35s or the build out of America’s missile defense system in Alaska,” Sullivan said.

He blamed Congressional democrats for causing the president to take funds from military projects.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” Sullivan said.

Three migrants who had managed to evade the Mexican National Guard and cross the Rio Grande onto U.S. territory walk along a border wall set back from the geographical border, in El Paso, Texas, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on July 17, 2019. (Christian Chavez/AP Photo)

Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a spending bill that set aside $1.4 billion for barriers along the border, significantly lower than the $5.7 billion sought by the president. Both Representative Don Young and Sullivan, as well as Senator Lisa Murkowski, voted for the final spending package.

In February, Sullivan told reporters in Alaska he viewed Trump’s move to declare a national emergency to shift defense dollars as “probably legal,” but added, “I would have concerns, particularly if it’s coming out of Alaska military construction.”

Congressman Don Young took much the same position.

“Congressional leadership had the opportunity to find a bipartisan solution to fund border security that would have avoided the deferment of these (military construction) projects,” Young said in a statement Wednesday.

About half the funds coming out of military projects are at installations overseas, including U.S. bases in Germany, Korea, Japan, and others.

A spokesperson for Murkowski said the senator was traveling without access to phone or email and did not yet have a statement on the news. However, in the past she has expressed skepticism about President Trump’s maneuver to pay for border wall construction, questioning the legality. In January, Murkowski said, “I have very serious concerns about why we would be seeking to take funding from those accounts that we have already identified as enhancing our national security.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Between Militarization and Disarmament: Constructing Peace in the Arctic, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Finland: US missiles: Finnish, Russian presidents call for dialogue at Helsinki meeting, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland & UK sign agreement to boost security, defence cooperation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: NATO’s Arctic dilemma: Two visions of the Arctic collide as NATO and Russia flex muscles, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Russia deploys new missile system near Norwegian, Finnish borders, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden wants to rebuild its “total defence” system, Radio Sweden

United States: Norad intercepts two Russian bombers over Beaufort Sea, CBC News

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Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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