Gov's Roads to Resources project still in the slow lane

Gov. Sean Parnell’s conceived Roads to Resources initiative to develop more roads to provide better access to natural resources has a ways to go if it is to become a reality. The progress was reported when Deputy Commissioner of Highways Pat Kemp of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities addressed the Senate Finance Committee, requesting $28.5 million in the fiscal year 2013 capital budget for permitting on the four main road projects.


The committee raised many concerns with the projects, either in funding or practicality. Department officials will return to lawmakers to provide more information.

The first request was for exploratory road access to the west foothills area of Umiat. The $10 million request is to complete the Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, and possibly begin the procurement process.

Kemp said Umiat’s foothills west area is a 9,000-square-mile area of known oil and gas deposits with between 200 million and 300 million known barrels of oil and 31 trillion cubic feet of gas. The road would be an 18-foot wide exploratory road which would require an estimated $200 million to $300 million worth of construction. Umiat is in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The draft EIS was originally scheduled for this December with a Record of Decision by mid-2013, but Kemp said a conflict could result in this record waiting until late 2014.

Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, questioned if this was DOT’s and the Department of Natural Resources’ “No. 1 project” necessary for oil and gas development and if this particular route is the most reasonable rather than one coming south from Prudhoe Bay.

Kemp replied that he this is the No. 1 priority for what the state can do to help industry, in that there is a lack of access to these mineral-rich areas. He said it’s his belief, albeit unconfirmed, that a route around Galbraith had the best chance of finding additional resources.

“This probably does have a high benefit cost for the state of Alaska in that venue,” he said.

When Sen. Donald Olson, D-Anchorage, brought up the issue of public opposition, Kemp said a recent scoping report indicated a fair amount from local communities.

“I have not heard more opposition to any roads to anywhere in my 12 years of being down here on the Finance Committee than to this road,” Olson said. He recommended consideration of alternatives, such as the Meltwater route.

The committee decided that the department should return with more information on this route and the alternatives, along with input from the Department of Natural Resources.

The second request was for $4 million to kick off the EIS and National Environmental Policy Act process for a road project to access high mineral deposit areas in Ambler with scoping being the first job. At the access road to the Ambler mining district where NovaCopper and NANA Corp. have partnered to develop. Thomas said that while this venture shows great promise, the same concerns are present for evaluation of resource amounts and alternatives are there.

The third project requested  $10 million for an 18-foot-wide road extension of the Tofty Road in Tanana to better access current and future mines, plus potential lease lot areas.

“It reaches areas rich in minerals. There are already some existing mines out there and there’s much more capability to be had in that area, plus it provides a road access to the community that has indicated they would like to be connected to the state transportation system,” Kemp said.

Still, the plans would not include a bridge. Kemp said they usually require an ice road in the winter and ferry service in the summer. The $10 million is intended to get the project permitted and possibly some of the construction started.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said more information is needed on land ownership concerning three areas of Native-patented lands.

The last project, calling for $2.5 million, is to upgrade the Klondike Industrial Use Highway between the Canadian border and Skagway. This is to facilitate or haul from developments out of the Yukon Territory, as traffic is expected to increase with Canadian industry growth. Kemp said the Canadian mines will be using 200,000-pound vehicles rather than the 160,000-pound ones they used before, which the bridges here cannot accommodate, plus the pavement has reached the end of its useful life.

“So this is a request to bring our highway back up to industrial use standards,” he said.

The Roads to Resources program development and evaluation for other small projects to help fund the program calls for another $2 million. Such projects include work on  road to Beluga for gas and coal, Niblak mine and Bokan Mountain mine access on Prince of Wales, Totchaket Road at Nenana for agriculture and timber plus potential gas and minerals, Granduc Mine in Hyder, Katlian Quarry at Baranoff Island and Marshall Quarry at the Yukon River.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Juneau, said that Kemp will return with more information on these too, particularly with projects in the Southeast that interfere with the Tongass forest lands, and must coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said his constituents also were concerned that Roads to Resources could be “corporate welfare” and asked for the department’s philosophy on private money for roads that exploit resources for private interests. Kemp said each project has its own unique financing, which are not completely set yet. It was recommended this must be examined further taking oil tax credits and deductions into account.


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