Alaska in Brief

State-owned Alaska corporation advances plans for road through the Mat-Su

By: - May 25, 2022 2:07 pm
A map showing the course of the proposed road

This screenshot from a January 2022 Matanuska-Susitna Borough document shows the route of the proposed West Susitna Access Road. (Mat-Su Borough screenshot)

The state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has requested permission from the federal government to build a 100-mile road into the mountainous western Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

On Tuesday, AIDEA officials said by email that they had filed a permit request under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That permit would allow the work needed to cross the Susitna, Skwentna and other rivers and wetlands along the road, which is formally known as the West Susitna Access Project.

“Today marks the beginning of the process to evaluate an access route to unlock opportunities in the fastest-growing region of the state,” said AIDEA executive director Alan Weitzner in a prepared statement. “We know the area is home to tremendous economic potential and offers recreational opportunities for residents of the Mat-Su Borough and all Alaskans.”

In AIDEA’s prepared statement, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he supports the road.

Beyond access to mines and the creation of jobs, he said the road is valuable because “it would also mean new recreational opportunities for Alaskans and thousands of additional acres of land available for agriculture to help our state be more food secure. The feasibility analysis AIDEA is about to undertake will provide the state and stakeholders with the information needed to make informed decisions about whether or not to proceed with the proposed road project.”  

As currently planned, the road would reach from a point southwest of Big Lake to an airstrip in the Yentna Mining District.

Several mining companies are exploring mineral prospects in the area, and the gas pipeline envisioned as part of the massive Donlin Gold mine would also pass near the end of the road.

The road is supported by the Mat-Su Borough government, which has partially funded predevelopment work. The Alaska Legislature authorized $8.5 million for project permitting last year. 

According to preliminary estimates, the road would cost $300 million to $400 million to complete. It isn’t clear how project developers will find that funding. 

In some AIDEA-backed projects, the state-funded organization has collected tolls. In others, the state treasury has footed all or part of the bill.

A group calling itself Defend the West Su is opposing the project. Backed by the environmental and fishing organization SalmonState, it includes area residents, hunting and fishing lodges, and other fishing companies that fear road construction in the area.

“The proposed West-Su Access Road threatens the Mat-Su region’s existing economy — while providing no benefit to the state,” said Steve Perrins, owner of Rainy Pass Lodge, in a prepared statement. “As an Alaskan, it’s incredibly upsetting that AIDEA is throwing away state money on a project that will damage our economy, kill many Mat-Su tourism-generating lodge businesses, and destroy my business — the oldest hunting and recreation lodge in Alaska.”

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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