What's Happening with the West Susitna Industrial Corridor?
West Susitna Access Industrial Corridor:
Where are We?
There has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the West Susitna Access industrial corridor, a proposed 108-mile private gravel road being pushed by the Alaska Industrial and Development Export Authority (AIDEA) and Nova Minerals, an Australian Gold mining company. Because of the many discussions going on, we would like to address what happened with Phase III, what happens next, and what we can do to stop the project. What happened with Phase III? On December 21, 2021, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly voted to approve a Resolution in support of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA’s Phase III of predevelopment for West Susitna Access. This decision was disheartening due to two days of overwhelming public testimony against the industrial corridor and the lack of understanding demonstrated by the Borough Assembly members. While our Mat-Su Borough Assembly had the power to stop this project with their vote, they did not. In the end, it was evident that they were not entirely sure what they were voting on. What does approval of Phase III mean? Approval of Phase III means that the Borough has given support and the go-ahead to AIDEA to allow further predevelopment of the West Susitna Access Project. Separately, the Mat-Su Borough is using the $50k designated in the 2021 budget to conduct outreach during the first quarter of 2022 utilizing a third-party public contractor. This outreach is too late to impact AIDEA’s plans or affect the design and private/public nature of the road. In the upcoming year, AIDEA will work independently of the Borough, to secure 404 permits and continue feasibility studies. In addition, they will continue to fine-tune the route. All of this will be paid for with $8.5 million designated by Governor Dunleavy from the state's general operating budget in October of 2021. Public outreach by the Borough began in late January of 2022. Currently they are collecting public comments and holding public open houses. The first open house took place via Zoom on February 23rd. More than 100 concerned citizens came to voice their concerns and opposition to the project.AIDEA, the Borough, and the Department of Natural Resources were unable to answer very basic questions. The next open house will occur on March 23, 2022 from 4-7 PM over Zoom. We expect the format to be the same, and the same lack of understanding or desire to answer good questions. The Borough comment period ends on March 31, 2022. Please Note: Comments submitted during the Borough Comment Period are not part of the Federal permitting process and will not be considered by the Federal Permitting Agency when permitting starts. Only comments submitted as part of the Federal permitting process will be addressed.
West Susitna Access Industrial Corridor:
The Susitna River Coalition (SRC) is opposed to this project and recommends that it NOT move forward to permitting until more information about impacts, usage, and an independent cost-benefit analysis is complete.
WE NEED YOU TO PARTICIPATE. A quick written comment or oral testimony during one of these meetings is key to ensuring the Borough and the permitting agencies know that residents of the Borough do not want this private, gravel, industrial road corridor or to be a part of another expensive, drawn out, unnecessary AIDEA project.
Tell them why this road would negatively impact you and how you interact in this area.
1. Online: https://bit.ly/susitna_access
2. Telephonically: 253-215-8782, Meeting ID: 860 7777 0537, Passcode: 150663
A Long Road Ahead
What happens after the Open House & Borough Comment Period?
What will happen during the summer of 2022?
This summer, AIDEA will hire a 3rd party contractor to assist with advancing pre-development work and field studies, file an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to advance to the 404 permitting process, and begin an environmental impact statement (EIS) through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)This will impact the Federal and State permitting process as well as the scoping and draft of the environmental impact study.
What kind of permitting is needed?
For AIDEA to construct the West Susitna Access industrial corridor, it will need to obtain a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to fill wetlands and other waters from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the Corps to issue the 404 permit, it must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by preparing an environmental impact statement, or EIS. This process typically takes 2 to 3 years and involves a couple opportunities for the public to engage. We should know much more about the EIS timeline after AIDEA submits its wetlands permit application to the Corps.
In addition to obtaining a wetlands permit, AIDEA will need to obtain permits from the State. The State will likely engage in that process after the EIS is completed. Some State permits may come after the Corps makes a decision on whether to issue a wetlands permit.
The timeline for federal permitting is extremely fluid with no exact dates at this point. We expect the public to be able to participate between 2-3 times during the federal permitting process.
Ok…So break down the Federal permitting timeline?
AIDEA submits their CWA application to the Corps, Est. Spring 2022.
The Corps will provide public notice that it is preparing an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). This will trigger a Scoping Comment Period where the public can identify potential concerns or possible alternatives. The Corps will likely take comments for 30-60 days. Est. Summer 2022
After the Scoping Period, the agency will prepare a draft EIS. The EIS will assess the anticipated impacts from the project and consider reasonable alternatives. Est. release of draft EIS Late Fall/Winter 2022.
Once completed, the public will get the opportunity to submit comments on the draft EIS. This comment period could be anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Est. completion of comment period, Winter 2022/23.
After the comment period closes, the Corps will proceed on to drafting a final EIS, where they must respond to comments submitted on the Draft EIS. Est. release of final EIS Summer-Fall 2023.
At least 30 days after the FEIS is released, the Corps will issue its permit decision.
The project is only in predevelopment. Projects like the West Sustina Access industrial corridor operate on a very long timeline. Despite the fast-tracked timeline of this AIDEA boondoggle, we would not expect to see ground breaking for 4-5 years. This means that there will be many more opportunities to get involved and protect this area from a road that the majority of stakeholders do not want.
Your public involvement will remain important at every step of the way. Right now, the most important thing to do is to stay engaged at the following levels:
Participate in upcoming state processes such as Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers scoping future land use planning process. Dates TBD, likely late March/early April 2022.
Participate in the Mat Su Borough Open Houses for West Susitna Access on March 23, 2022
Send in Public Comments to the Borough Communications team by March 31, 2022
Submit Public Comments during the Environmental Impact Statement scoping period begins. Comment periods are typically 30-60 days in length. Summer 2022
Sign this petition created by concerned citizen's asking the Governor to stop the project
Continue to engage with the Susitna River Coalition as we follow this project
Find us at the MatSu, Anchorage, and Fairbanks Outdoor Shows! We will have new maps, opportunities to take action and fresh stickers.
This fight is far from over. Involvement of YOU, the public will be extremely important as we move forward. If you would like to stay involved and have the latest news that the Susitna River Coalition can provide, please sign up for our newsletter, send us an email, and follow us on Facebook.
Matanuska Electric Association (MEA)
Coop Board Elections
The Matanuska Electric Association was established in 1941 making it the first electric association in Alaska. Today, more than 53500 members make up the ownership of MEA which serves the communities of Eagle River, Chugiak, Birchwood, and Eklutna in addition to the Mat-Su Borough. If you pay electricity bills to MEA, you are one of these member-owners! MEA is governed by bylaws and articles of incorporation that are voted on and approved by the member-owners of MEA. This role comes with rights and responsibilities such as voicing your opinion at monthly MEA Board meetings, getting monthly updates from MEA, and most importantly, voting for key by-law changes and members of the board of directors.
The MEA board of directors work closely with the CEO to provide reliable and affordable electricity and guide the cooperative in the future. The board of directors is made up of four district based representatives and three directors at-large who are elected at the spring annual members meeting and serve 4 year terms. MEA’s service area covers approximately 4,500 miles of power lines in Southcentral Alaska.
It is important to elect MEA board members who support expanding collaboration along the railbelt, speaking out against wasteful projects such as the Susitna-Watana Dam, and increasing engagement from member-owners like you! MEA plays a large role in the Railbelt Reliability Council (RRC) which is an effort between electric associations from Fairbanks to Homer to share power and innovation ideas.
Energy innovation is great but projects such as the Susitna-Watana Dam have shown us that we need responsible board members advocating for responsible renewables on the MEA board and the RRC. That is why the Susitna River Coalition has launched a program to engage member-owners of MEA across the 4,500 miles of power line to get out and vote for good candidates in the MEA board elections every spring.
During the 2022 election, there are two board seats up for election: The At-Large Seat and the Eagle River Seat. Candidates have been announced, and the election will take place in April.
We will be sure to keep you updated on all things MEA election in the coming month!
Lampreys have experienced wide-spread declines in abundance on a global scale primarily as a result of anthropogenic disturbances. Even though these ancestral fishes share many of the same habitats as salmonids in freshwater ecosystems, native lampreys as a group have received little management or research attention. This paucity of information limits the development of management and conservation plans for lamprey species in Alaska, which includes Pacific Lamprey Entosphenus tridentatus, a species of conservation interest throughout much of its historical distribution. The Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative (PLCI), a diverse group of indigenous tribal organizations, federal, state and local agencies, non-profit groups, universities, and other Pacific coast entities, uses collaborative research, conservation actions, and outreach to achieve long-term persistence of Pacific Lamprey populations and their habitats while also supporting traditional cultural use. As the newest fish habitat partnership (FHP), PLCI is seeking ways to collaborate with other FHPs and partners throughout the historical range of Pacific Lamprey, especially those in Alaska, to increase awareness and understanding of the cultural and ecological importance of Pacific Lamprey, identify ways to leverage existing knowledge and resources to protect, and restore and enhance fish habitat for the benefit of all aquatic species and the communities they support. One of PLCI’s primary goals is to strengthen its network of Alaskan partners and knowledge of Pacific Lamprey as well as other lamprey species. In this presentation, we will discuss lamprey life history, the current state of knowledge on lamprey species n Alaska, describe ongoing and future research efforts on Pacific lamprey in the Susitna River drainage, and highlight opportunities for developing partnerships to foster a greater understanding on the distribution, abundance, habitat use, and life history of Pacific Lamprey in Alaska. Trent Sutton has been a faculty member at UAF since 2007, and previously held faculty positions at Purdue University (2001-2007) and Lake Superior State University (1996-2001). He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University, a Master of Science degree in Biological Sciences from Michigan Technological University, and a Ph.D. in Fisheries Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Over his academic career, Trent has taught 31 different undergraduate and graduate courses, primarily in the areas of fisheries biology and management. He has completed 37 graduate students (31 M.S., six Ph.D.) and currently has four (three M.S. and one Ph.D.) graduate students in his research program. He has published 117 peer-reviewed journal articles, four proceedings, five book chapters, and is one of three co-editors of Fisheries Techniques, Third Edition. Trent is an active member in the American Fisheries Society, serving as a Past President of the Indiana and Alaska Chapters and the Education Section. Trent has served as the Associate Dean of Academic Programs for the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences since July 2014 and as the co-Director (January 2015-June 2016) Director (July 2016-present) of URSA (the office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity) for the UAF Troth Yeddha’ campus, rural campuses, and CTC. Trent’s research program uses a field and laboratory-based approach to develop a greater understanding of the role of biotic and abiotic factors on the population ecology and biology of fishes and community structure in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Trent has current research projects directed at understanding the distribution, abundance, movement patterns, population dynamics, and life history of various species in large natural rivers and lakes in interior Alaska, the Yukon River delta, Prince William and Kotzebue sounds, and the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. He currently leads the Beaufort Sea Long-Term Nearshore Fish Monitoring Program in Prudhoe Bay and has additional research projects involving lingcod, Arctic and Pacific lampreys, and sockeye salmon in Alaska. Join us via Zoom or FacebookLive.
Want to contribute to lamprey information in the watershed? The Knik Tribe has been working to understand the reported declines in lamprey in the MatSu watersheds, a great concern for salmon and other fish that depend upon larval lamprey for food. Some additional information is found here. Take the survey and help scientists understand Pacific Lamprey in our watershed!