OPINION: West Susitna Access Project moves forward in the public process

This week, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, better known as AIDEA, filed a permit with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build a multi-use access road in the West Susitna area of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

If built, the two-lane, gravel road would open an area that is currently accessible only by boat or small plane, despite being located within the fastest-growing region of the state. The intended route is approximately 100 miles long, starting near the west end of Ayrshire Road, southwest of Big Lake, to a point near the confluence of Portage Creek and the Skwentna River.

Some have questioned the value in moving forward with the West Susitna Access Project, but it is important for Alaskans to understand that we all have a constitutional obligation to manage the resources we hold in common for their highest and best use. There is no question that Alaska is rich in natural resources, but many of them are stranded and inaccessible. Projects like the West Susitna Access, if done right, help us to meet this constitutional obligation for the benefit for all Alaskans.

The West Susitna Access Project has the potential to provide tremendous economic opportunities. Past economic studies have found that the West Susitna is one of the richest resource regions in the state. The development and extraction of minerals and oil and gas, and the increase to access of agricultural land and alternative, sustainable energy development would not only create jobs for our children and grandchildren, but could also help Alaska to be more energy resilient and enhance food security.

The road would also provide more access for Alaskans living in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and beyond. We would gain access to a road that provides residents with more recreational opportunities like fishing, boating and snowmachining, as well as more opportunity for land sales by the borough and state for housing or cabins.

While there are many benefits to the project, concerns have been expressed, which is understandable at this stage. That’s why it is so important to take this next step. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will evaluate AIDEA’s permit application and initiate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance process when they deem appropriate. The Corps of Engineers will decide how and when the NEPA process begins. Typically, it involves gathering input from stakeholders, conducting detailed analysis, issuing notices, and accepting and responding to public comments.

As part of the continued public process, several economic studies will be conducted. The governor has asked for an independent economic analysis of the project that is in addition to the continued economic research and studies AIDEA will be commissioning as we advance the development. It is important that all stakeholders have the opportunity to give input and express their concerns, and that we fully understand the benefits and costs of the project before we proceed. The science and data must support this project or it will not move forward.


AIDEA’s permit filing is a continuation of the work that is supported by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly and funded by the Alaska Legislature through an $8.5 million dollar appropriation in the 2021 capital budget. It will also continue the environmental review and associated public engagement that has been facilitated by AIDEA and the Mat-Su Borough.

The USACE will evaluate our permit application and determine initiation of the National Environmental Policy Act compliance process. USACE processes consider not only NEPA compliance, but compliance with many other federal laws. In other words, this project will be analyzed by independent agencies and development experts from many angles.

It will also involve gathering input from stakeholders, conducting detailed analysis, issuing notices, and accepting and responding to public comments. Alaskans understandably will want to learn more and stay up to date on the project’s status. To that end, AIDEA maintains a project-specific website that will be updated as the permit application moves through the process.

The West Susitna Access Project provides incredible potential not only to grow the state’s economic base, but to open a large area of state and borough land. We have an obligation to evaluate how best to use our resources for the benefit of all Alaskans, which requires us to diligently gather information through this permitting process. There is incredible economic and recreational value in the West Susitna, and Alaska has shown time and again how these can coexist, responsibly. Alaska is big enough that we can choose both.

Alan Weitzner is the CEO/Executive Director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the State of Alaska’s economic development finance authority.

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