Environmental Group Criticizes Resource Roads

The Parnell administration has budgeted millions of dollars toward a program aimed at building gravel roads to Northwestern Alaska mineral resources, but a conservation group is calling the program a waste of money.

A report released last week by the  Wilderness Society points out financial flaws in  the state administration’s “road to resources” agenda.

Author Lois Epstein, Arctic Program Director for the Wilderness Society,  says there is no financial mechanism behind the administration’s push for roads to Umiat, Ambler and Nome.  And, so far, millions of dollars have been spent on planning the roads

Epstein’s report, Easy to Start, Impossible to Finish II, focuses on the three Arctic roads, which she says would facilitate private resource development in the respective areas, while private industry has not contributed any funds toward the road projects.

Epstein says, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities data indicates these projects have an estimated total construction cost of at least $1.7-2.4 billion,  based on building one-lane, low-cost gravel roads. Former Governors Murkowski and Palin, and Governor Sean Parnell have requested, and received $33.6 million in state money to date on the three projects.

Parnell’s capital budget for Fiscal Year 2013 proposes spending an additional millions in state money on the projects.

Epstein says other road projects under consideration, like the proposed roads to Juneau and Gravina, would have received 90 percent funding from the federal government, with the state contributing about 10 percent of costs.

But federal dollars are drying up, Epstein says, and the state’s general fund would have to foot the bill for the Umiat, Ambler and Nome roads.

But Joe Buck, the state Department of Transportation’s resource roads manager, says Epstein is being short sighted.

Buck says the P3 idea works by creating a development consortium.

Buck says the tonnage fees could eventually be used to pay off the state’s initial investment in getting the projects started.

Governor Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow confirms that Parnell has requested $28.5 million for  roads to resources, but could not say if the administration had reviewed the report yet.

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