UPDATE- AIDEA FILED FOR THEIR 404C PERMIT WITH THE ARMY CORP OF ENGINEERS ON MAY 24TH. ALASKA BHA WILL KEEP OUR MEMBERS APPRISED OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT!
Alaska BHA recently asked our membership to voice their opposition to the West Susitna Access Road, a proposed road across the West Susitna Basin extending from Port Mackenzie through Rainy Pass to mining claims in the Alaska Range. Alaska BHA’s concerns about the project are wide-ranging, from impacts to habitat and the regions’ recreational rivers to additional development projects touted by Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) that could further limit hunting and angling opportunities in the region. In December, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough voted in favor of progressing to Phase III of a Memorandum of Understanding with AIDEA despite overwhelming public comment in opposition to the project. Now, AIDEA plans to file for Clean Water Act permits through the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers as early as this spring.
The proposed route for the road will cross 156 streams. Among those are the Susitna River just downstream of the confluence with the Yenta River, Alexander Creek just upstream of the confluence with the Susitna, the Skwentna river near its confluence with the Talachulitna River, and the Happy River near its confluence with the Skwentna. Many of the streams and rivers that the road will cross are catalogued as anadromous and the rest flow into anadromous water bodies. Alaska BHA is only aware of one part of the planning process so far that has discussed potential mitigation efforts to fish habitat, 90 culverts may be designed for fish passage. At a time when Alaskans statewide are experiencing collapsing salmon stocks for unknown reasons, we cannot support such wholesale change to a massive ecosystem for yet to be determined future revenue.
Aside from fish, other wildlife species could also be negatively affected by the road and associated development. Moose, bear, waterfowl, and even Dall’s sheep can be found along the route of the road. Numerous furbearer species and upland birds also provide opportunity for hunting and trapping. In the meetings held on the road so far, Alaska BHA has not heard any explanation of how AIDEA plans to mitigate negative impacts to these species’ habitat.
The Backcountry Experience
The Susitna River Basin is a large area and allows ample opportunities to experience the backcountry. The road would undoubtedly have a negative impact on many of those opportunities and the potential for expanded development off the road would impact more. AIDEA has touted potential extraction industry benefits of the project on their website: as additional mining, forest/ timber production, agriculture, and oil and gas development. The state of Alaska is currently holding a comment period on a preliminary best interest finding for over 900,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the Susitna River Basin. If the road is used to expand development into other areas of the Susitna River Basin, it would negatively impact hunting and angling opportunity on a significant portion of this expansive swath of backcountry.
Throughout the discussions on the road project, there has been a large focus on whether the road will be open to the public or not. As it stands currently, only a short section of the road to the Susitna River will be open to the public, the rest remains a road solely for industrial use. AIDEA has not addressed key questions about the potential for the road being opened to the public including increased cost, managing industrial and public traffic, and providing for basic public use needs like parking. The notion that this road will be publicly accessible is being used to build support for the road without having any meaningful thought or planning put into how that accessibility would be achieved.
Alaska BHA recommends that our members oppose this road. Right now, the Mat-Su Borough is accepting comments through March 31st, you can comment here. It is important to note that these comments are not part of any formal permitting process and will not be submitted for review as part of AIDEAs 404c permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To stay up to date with this project, watch your email for updates from us and follow the West Su Access Road Informational facebook page.