North Road extension project hits delay

The road to Gray Cliff and Moose Point is a narrow, muddy path, shown on Monday, April 11, 2016 near Nikiski, Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula Borough is working on plans to extend a gravel road toward the subdivisions north of Nikiski. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

A regulatory hangup will delay the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Kenai Spur Highway extension project for a few months.

 

The project, known commonly as the North Road Extension Project, is intended to move the terminus of the Kenai Spur Highway out about eight miles toward the Gray Cliff subdivision past Captain Cook State Recreation Site. A gravel road currently runs out about half a mile before becoming a rough ATV trail, which winds through the woods to the north. The project would extend the gravel road, built to borough standards.

Originally, the plan was to obtain a categorical exclusion for the project to avoid the cost and time of completing a full Environmental Impact Statement, a document required by the National Environmental Protection Act to gauge a project’s effects on the environment.

However, upon working with the Federal Highway Administration’s Western Federal Lands division, the borough administration found out it could not obtain a categorical exclusion for the project, said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s Oct. 10 meeting.

“They tried to fit a categorical exclusion but couldn’t find any of the categories that it actually worked for that specific project, for a variety of reasons,” he said.

The borough did not have enough infrastructure in the area to fit properly into a categorical exclusion, said borough roads engineer Henry Knackstedt. However, an environmental assessment isn’t the same amount of work and cost as an environmental impact statement — it will likely be only about 30 pages and will be completed by Western Federal Lands, he said.

“We’re going the same direction, but it’s a little diversion from what we were doing,” he said.

Once it’s completed, the borough expects to obtain a Finding of No Significant Impact document, allowing the project to proceed without a full Environmental Impact Statement, Knackstedt said. The environmental assessment will go out to public comment for 30 days after it is completed this fall, and when it is finished, the project will likely go out to bid in the early spring, he said.

The assembly also approved a revision to the contract with McLane Consulting, the design firm that is working in the project, to include construction administration services. That added about $263,000 to the contract over the next 14 months, according to a memo from Knackstedt to the assembly.

The initial contract did not include the administration services because “design and permitting details were not complete at that time, and a later amendment would be appropriate when these would be more clear,” he wrote.

The additional funds would cover the estimated two years of the construction, through September 2020, on a time and expense basis, the memo states.

The North Road Extension project dates back more than 20 years, to 1999, when the borough first obtained earmarked funds to extend the Kenai Spur Highway but determined it would not be possible to complete all the environmental work and permitting with the funds available. The project opened up again when Apache Corporation began exploring for oil in the area and planned to construct the road itself, but donated all the permitting and environmental work when the company withdrew from Alaska in early 2016.

The borough then applied that work as a match for the funds and plans to build as much of the road as possible, based on a base section with two optional extensions, without exceeding the amount of the original grant from the federal government.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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