OPINION: AIDEA is misleading Alaskans and getting away with it

I call a spade a spade, and I’m tired of the smokescreens on the West Susitna Industrial Access Road.

Most recently, they came from Dana Pruhs, the chair of the board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, in an opinion piece published in this newspaper, when he threw out misleading rhetoric to make this project and AIDEA’s “investment” decisions look good.

Pruhs, a public figure with a significant say in how AIDEA chooses to waste the massive amount of money the state of Alaska has for some reason appropriated to it and that the Legislature continues to allow them to waste — $1.4 billion, last I heard — was responding to someone pointing out, in an opinion piece in this publication, something that came out of his mouth in a public meeting.

“That’s where I’m at. We don’t want a road there,” he said, talking about his West Susitna cabin.

Pruhs can’t take back what he said in a public meeting. The recording is out there, on the internet, for anyone to listen to.

Now he claims in his opinion piece that he doesn’t care either way if the road is close to him. But if that’s true, why did he get a cabin out there to begin with?

You buy a cabin in the West Susitna so you can hunt and fish in a wild part of Alaska. If Pruhs didn’t care whether or not traffic was roaring right past him, he would have bought in Willow.


What makes all this even more ridiculous is that AIDEA has a proven track record of losing Alaska taxpayers’ money. A “clean” coal-fired power plant? What an absolute joke. AIDEA spent $150 million on it, then shuttered it, then sold it at an enormous loss. They lost money on the Mustang project. They lost money on the Anchorage seafood plant, now a church. The list goes on.

AIDEA has a clear track record of failure. They’re more likely to lose money than make it. Why would anyone expect anything different for the West Susitna Industrial Access Road? Red Dog, which AIDEA always mentions as their “success story,” would have been highly profitable without the state of Alaska giving it public money — and AIDEA knows that. Their own consultants told them so before they forked our cash over. That means much of our Alaska money just went into the pockets of the foreign mining corporation operating it at the time — and left the state.

If I need a new power plant or more horses, I don’t get to have the state go get them for me. I pay for them. Maybe the biggest mistruth in that piece was Pruhs saying investors are going to pay for this industrial road. These are some of the richest gold mining companies in the world. If there were a way for a profitable business operation to happen, they’d be paying for it. AIDEA wouldn’t have already appropriated millions of dollars of Alaska money for it. The most recent Statewide Transportation Improvement Program set aside almost $80 million of public money for the first 22 miles of this road. If Pruhs is trying to talk about taxing companies that use the road if their mines ever get operational — well, AIDEA’s track record on project after project proves Alaskans will never make back what we spend.

Ten years ago, the price tag for this road was almost a half-billion dollars. I’d bet my lodge that the real price tag is now between $800 million and $1 billion. The state doesn’t know how to do any different. They don’t know how to build something within a budget or even close. They have a proven track record of not being in budget. And that’s something that every Alaskan should be looking at when they assess whether their legislators are making a good move.

“Financially viable” has turned into people saying, “If the government will just give me money, everything will be OK.” In my industry, if I was doing business and losing money this way, I’d get fired. If I was the owner, I’d get shut down before I kept bleeding money. Why are we paying AIDEA to continue to bleed our money? Why do we let them keep doing this? Can we just get back to common sense?

I’m tired of smoke screens and lies. It’s time to hold our government officials and our financial managers responsible.

Steve Perrins is the owner of Rainy Pass Lodge and a board member of the Alaska Range Alliance.

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Steve Perrins

Steve Perrins is the owner of Rainy Pass Lodge, the oldest hunting lodge in Alaska. He is also a star on "R5 Sons Alaska," a reality TV show that chronicles the Perrins family running a lodge in the wilderness with their five sons.