With tighter revenue, lawmakers should stop pushing ludicrous megaprojects

Pete Panarese
OPINION: Alaska looks like it'll be facing tighter budgets no matter what it decides to do with oil taxes, so our Legislature should just stop throwing money at improbable megaprojects. istockphoto

Matt Kaso’s commentary on August 7 regarding the Susitna Dam got me thinking. Voters just finished being embroiled in debate about SB 21 and how we are going to manage our oil wealth.

Alaskans have spent part of that oil wealth on several megaprojects: The Susitna Dam and the road to Juneau being two of them. These projects may have merit, but do we need them now? The current cost estimate for the Susitna Dam is $5.19 billion according to MWH Global. The state has already spent $172 million on study, design and permitting.

The proposed Juneau Access Road along the east side of Lynn Canal is projected to cost $250 million to build between now and 2020. The Legislature appropriated $35 million this year and has spent a little more than $179 million since 2006 to keep the project alive. This is in spite of the fact that many believe the costs were “dramatically underestimated” (FHWA Record of Decision, Final EIS April 2006). Travelers would still have to get on a ferry in Haines or Skagway, sail over to the Katzehin Delta to a new terminal, and then drive 50 miles of new road through some of the most active avalanche terrain in North America.

These two projects alone have cost Alaskans more than $600 million. I doubt we’ll see a dam on the Susitna or a road to Juneau within the next 20 years. What else could that money have done? I read and hear daily that the state is going broke, SB21 or not. And now that it has survived referendum, the state is less likely to collect any oil revenue windfalls. Until we get our financial house in order, I have to agree with Matt.

Just stop it.

Pete Panarese is a retired natural resource manager with the Department of Natural Resources, where he served as Chugach State Park superintendent and chief of field operations or Alaska State Parks. He lives in Eagle River.

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