Mat-Su Borough Open House #2 and Update!
West Susitna Access Industrial Corridor:
The West Susitna Road is a proposed 100+ mile industrial access road. The road would begin at Port Mackenzie and cut through the currently roadless heart of the Western Susitna drainage to end at a gold mining claim being explored by an Australian gold mining company. The road would include 156 stream crossings, 145 of which will get culverts and 90 of which will be designated for fish passage. There will be 11 bridges, 4 of them complex bridges.
On December 21, 2021, despite robust public testimony against, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly ignored their constituents voices and voted to approve Phase III of the West Susitna Access Road. This would be a 100+ mile industrial gravel road. Public testimony was well thought out, and the Assembly members received a lot of contact from constituents in the weeks leading up to the vote. Through this action, the Borough Assembly authorized AIDEA to continue down this route - with no requirements for public outreach, or independent cost-benefit analysis, on the timeline AIDEA proposed.
After this vote, the Mat-Su Assembly directed the Borough to use $50,000 of already allocated Borough funding to conduct public outreach during the first quarter of 2022. This outreach includes the collection of public comments and two public meetings. The end result of this Borough public involvement project will be a summary of comments representing current public sentiment about the proposed West Susitna Access Road. A summary of the comments to the Borough Assembly and AIDEA will be made before submitting it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for consideration during the upcoming Clean Water Act permitting process.
An in-depth description of the project can be found HERE.
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
Did you miss the first Borough Open House? Watch the Borough recording here.
Mat Su Borough Comment Period Deadline: March 31, 2022
Comments for the Mat-Su Borough comment period are due on March 31, 2022.
The Borough will be compiling your comments and sending them in to the Army Corps during the environmental impact statement scoping period. Your comments are still valuable during this phase, but we recommend please keeping a copy of your comments so you can also submit them to the Corps on your own when the time comes.
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.
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.
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:
Sign the SRC petition against the project.
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
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.