Beetle office gets a boost: Borough to receive $3 million for fuels reduction

Beetle office gets a boost: Borough to receive $3 million for fuels reduction

8 May 2009

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USA — Thanks to the federal government, the Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program has a chance to extend its existence on the Kenai Peninsula.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which funds an overwhelming number of beetle mitigation projects, announced Tuesday it will be granting the Kenai Peninsula Borough nearly $3 million for hazardous fuels reduction.

A majority of those funds, approximately $1.79 million, is slated for SBB projects, $875,000 for Hope’s hazardous fuels removal project and $270,000 for a similar Cooper Lake project. The $3 million the borough is receiving is part of the $5 million total sum the state of Alaska is receiving for hazardous fuels reduction.

This money is part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package.

“Stimulus money, especially, is to be used to create new jobs,” said Borough Mayor Dave Carey in an interview Thursday. “This should allow us to expand.

“We want to examine ways to maximize that money,” he said.

“I’m pleased, I hope that we’re able to use the money in a very timely fashion,” said SBB program manager Duane Bannock.

Though the borough has yet to see what federal requirements are tied to the funds. Carey said the stimulus money the borough has receive so far hasn’t had many strings attached.

Carey said he suspects monthly updates will be required to ensure the money is being spent appropriately.

Carey said the borough is also researching the possibility of a reforestation project on the peninsula. A future goal is to distribute tree saplings at various upcoming summer events. Carey said he’d also like to have saplings available to the public at the borough building.

Though the stimulus funding has yet to be designated for specific functions, Carey said it’s reasonable to assume the program will be expanded and extended. He estimated enough money is left to continue the program for three more years.

In total, the USDA is appropriating $223 million to 110 projects throughout more than 26 states and territories. All of the projects are located on forested lands.

“These projects provide for public health and safety by reducing the risk of wildland fire near communities in the wildland urban interface and restoring healthy forests,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a written statement. “These projects provide benefits to current and future generations, including improved water quality and quantity, healthy forests that provide clean air and recreation opportunities while reducing wildfire risks.”

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