A report by three environmental organizations criticizes Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to build roads to Umiat, Nome and Ambler in an effort to make it easier to tap some of Alaska’s remote natural resources.
Parnell wants to spend $24 million to advance the planning on his so-called Roads to Resources effort that aims to open development in some far-flung corners of Alaska. Actually building the roads would cost an estimated $1.7 to $2.4 billion.
Some $10 million of Parnell’s proposal would be spent beginning a process designed to open access to oil industry roads on the North Slope. The money would help pay for environmental impact statements, environmental permitting and right-of-way issues. Another $4 million would go to the Ambler Mining District Road, providing all-season access to explore and develop Northwest Alaska.
But a report assembled by The Wilderness Society, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Alaska Conservation Center slams Roads to Resources as wasteful and poorly thought out. Among the problems the groups cite is that all the spending so far has been state money – not the 90 percent federal, 10 percent state split common on many transportation projects.
“State dollars should go to higher priority uses such as fixing existing transportation infrastructure, education, municipal revenue sharing and other important state needs,” writes Lois Epstein, Arctic program director of The Wilderness Society’s Alaska regional office. Epstein is an Alaska engineer and primary author of the new report.
“The projects do not have financial plans identifying how they will be paid for, nor has the state quantified expected resource-related revenue associated with them,” according to Epstein’s report. “Additionally, the state has not identified where the funding for road maintenance and preservation would come from.”
Parnell has noted that resource development pays for 90 percent of the state's general fund budget. He believes the Roads to Resources effort can help boost that income.
But according to the report, the road to Umiat has already generated local opposition. State Sen. Donny Olson, in a speech to the Alaska Senate on Feb. 17, said there is “unanimous agreement across the North Slope that this road to resources is going to severely interfere and inhibit their subsistence lifestyle.”
Pamela Miller, the Arctic program director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said companies that want to market Alaska resources should pay for roads themselves.
"If you need a new driveway, you have to pay for it out of your own pocket,” she said. “But if you own millions of dollars’ worth of drilling or mining equipment, the state is willing to save you enormous amounts of money by building a road for you.”