VALDEZ (AP) -- A furor over possible curbs on property owners has halted a plan to designate part of the Richardson Highway as a national scenic byway.
The state Department of Transportation stopped work on the idea after receiving petitions with more than 400 signatures, most from the Copper River Basin. The DOT was considering nominating the section of road from Glennallen to Valdez for the byway designation.
''We had hired some consultants to help with the development of a corridor plan,'' Diane Regan of DOT told the Valdez Vanguard. ''We suspended the contract due to a lack of support at this time ... We want to wait and see whether there is anyone who really wants this.''
Valdez city officials and area economic development representatives say the designation could help tourism, Regan said.
Fears of an infringement on private property rights are unfounded, Regan said.
''The plan offers absolutely nothing but a whole bunch of recommendations to be implemented on a voluntary basis by the people who live out there,'' she said.
Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, who represents Valdez and the Copper Basin, thinks the process needs to be slowed to satisfactorily answer people's questions. She said the designation has potential benefits, such as new pullouts and signs to direct visitors.
''But folks need assurances that it doesn't prohibit economic development, or any kind of development in the area,'' she said.
''I just see private property abuses on the way,'' said John Wenger of Kenny Lake, who circulated the petitions.
Wenger said his worries arose after he read the plan for Alaska's only national scenic byway, the Seward Highway. The wording objects to natural scenery being disturbed by commercial development, such as gas stations and convenience shops, Wenger said.
''We need to have gas and convenience stores. We're sorry if they're out in the open and the tourists see them,'' Wenger said.
Regan said the Seward Highway plan is not comparable to what would happen along the Richardson because there are few private landholders along the Seward Highway scenic corridor.
Scenic byway planning has the benefit of allowing communities to chart where they want to go, she said. Also, if the Richardson became a national scenic byway, there could be federal funds available for tourism marketing, highway pullouts, interpretive displays and access to recreation.
The Transportation Department will hold hearings on the issue in both Valdez and the Copper Basin in the next couple of months, Regan said.
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