Corps of Engineers projects a boon to Alaska

It's kind of like a big, invisible hand in Alaska's economy.

A hand that has guided more than $2 billion of construction around the state over the past five years, overseeing everything from toxic waste cleanups at abandoned military sites to the building of new harbors.

Yet the Army Corps of Engineers' projects here are obscure to many Alaskans, economists say.

"Nobody knows what they do unless they are involved," said Scott Goldsmith, an economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The Corps is part of the Army, but beyond military work its responsibilities include construction around navigable waters, flood control and other engineering work.

With the slump of housing construction right now and the recent loss of hundreds of construction jobs around Alaska, the Corps' projects might be one of the few bright spots for that industry next year, said Neal Fried, a state labor economist.

"It's a big piece of the action, no doubt," he said.

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