Opinions

OPINION: Costly West Susitna Access Project will benefit foreign mining companies, not Alaskans

february, ayrshire avenue, west susitna access road, development, mat-su, wasilla

We support responsible development of Alaska’s roads and resources, but the West Susitna Access Road is a waste of money that will hurt Alaska businesses. The recent commentary by a group calling themselves Friends of West Susitna made claims about the road that sound compelling enough to the average person who’s not closely tracking the backdoor deals of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. The problem is, they aren’t who they say they are. And they’re wrong.

The commentary touted public access to the road, but to date AIDEA and the out-of-state corporate interest groups backing it have refused to provide a clear answer of what that access will look like, or even confirm whether it will exist. To be clear, this road is being designed as a private road, only being built to provide access from Port Mackenzie to the Yentna Mining District. The only folks guaranteed to have access are the foreign mining interests that are attempting to quietly push through an expensive and unnecessary project, hoping we won’t notice what’s happening. But we do, and we’re calling on all Alaskans to pay attention.

The Friends of West Susitna group wants you to believe they’re just everyday folks like you and me, but they’re doing a sloppy job of hiding their ties to the largest trade association in Alaska. Links on their website will take you back to The Alaska Support Industry Alliance, perhaps because millions of dollars are on the line to be made from government insiders on this ill-advised project.

The cost of construction alone is cause for concern. Conservative estimates are that this road will cost Alaskans more than $350 million in funds we don’t have to spend, at a time when the politicians in Juneau can barely balance a budget. How many of us have driven on roads that are desperate for repair? Our neighbors across the Mat-Su agree that we need to be able to take care of the infrastructure we have before we spend millions of dollars of Alaskans’ money building roads that we can’t even use. With duds like the Alaska Seafood International plant and the Four Dam Pool that sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into failing projects, we should know better than to trust AIDEA with our investments.

We’ve raised our families to appreciate and explore Alaska’s beauty, and our livelihoods are vested in the ability to hunt, fish and fly with freedom. Building this road would decimate herd animal habitats and drive away the reason to visit in the first place. If you want to visit the wilderness of West Susitna you can hop on a bush plane, riverboat or snowmachine — we already have public access. A private road for a foreign mine simply does nothing to benefit Alaskans.

Despite overwhelming and vocal opposition to the project, AIDEA is attempting to fast-track it with half-baked plans and shoddy permitting information. Recently the state submitted a wetlands permit application for a federal-level environmental impact study required to move this project forward. Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, notified AIDEA that its application was incomplete, just two weeks after receiving it. If the molasses-moving bureaucracy of the federal government can turn around a decision that quickly, we can see the writing on the wall: The application was incomplete and incorrect, a rush job.

As conservative small-business owners who are also hunters, fishermen and recreators in the Susitna Valley, we are not opposed to development. Our businesses depend on Alaska being the premier destination for those who want to experience the quiet wilderness of our great state. But we expect it to be done responsibly, thoughtfully and with adequate support from the public. This project has none of those.

Keep your eyes open, Alaska. We invite all Alaskans to write to AIDEA with their concerns on the project and make their voices heard.

Todd Rust is owner and director of operations for Rust’s Flying Service and K2 Aviation, a family-owned business in Anchorage, and has lived in Alaska with his family since 1959. Kevin Dana is a lifelong Alaskan and owner of Barney’s Sports Chalet. He lives in Chugiak with his wife, three kids and their dog.

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