FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Dipnetters can expect a bounty of salmon in the Copper River, but reaching the Chitina spot won't be so easy.
According to the state Department of Transportation, repairs won't soon be made on O'Brien Creek Road, which was closed last summer after a massive landslide.
The 6-mile road provides the only access for thousands of dipnetters who drive to Chitina and climb down steep cliffs to reach the river.
''It looks like we're going to have plenty of fish but we may have trouble getting to them,'' Stan Bloom, vice president of the Chitina Dipnetters Association, said after a meeting last week with representatives from DOT and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
O'Brien Creek Road was closed when a landslide covered a section of the road with a huge pile of dirt, rocks and trees. The slide trapped about 300 dipnetters who were parked on the other side.
It took DOT two days to clear the debris so traffic could make it through but the road remained closed the rest of the season. The agency is still trying to figure out how to fix the road, a narrow dirt track carved into the hillside that parallels the river, said John Bennett, chief of right-of-way for the northern region.
''It's a very challenging landscape to construct anything,'' Bennett told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The DOT will have to get permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the habitat division of Fish and Game to do any work. In addition, much of the slide area sits on land that belongs to the Ahtna Native Corp.
''Virtually anything we do to fix the road is going to result in pushing an enormous amount of dirt and rock into the river, which is a concern to Fish and Game,'' Bennett said.
The stability of the hillside itself is also a major concern. DOT is in the process of contracting with geotechnical experts to do some exploration work that is too dangerous for DOT to handle, Bennett said.
Meanwhile, the state is forecasting a run of 1.6 million sockeye salmon in the Copper River this year, which should provide enough fish for commercial, subsistence and sport fishing interests, state fisheries biologist Tom Taube said.
Dipnetters catch 100,000 to 150,000 salmon a year, most of which are sockeyes. Last year, the state issued more than 9,000 dipnet permits.
Some dipnetters use boats to catch fish and others rely on charter operators to ferry them to a good spot, but many dipnetters hike up and down cliffs between O'Brien Creek and Haley Creek to get their fish. With the road closed, most dipnetting from shore will be limited to O'Brien Creek.
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