The West Susitna Industrial Access Road

With a startling lack of opportunities for stakeholder and public input, Australia-based Nova Minerals, AIDEA (Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state owned corporation) and the Mat-Su Borough are considering Phase 2 of a Memorandum of Understanding towards a private, industrial mining road. The road would begin either near Port MacKenzie or in the Big Lake area, would cross the Susitna River and travel through the Yentna watershed and end at Nova Minerals Estelle Gold Claim near Rainy Pass. During Phase 1 of the understanding, the Borough and AIDEA have already each paid $50 thousand for feasibility studies, with an additional $100 thousand from Nova Minerals.

 

The private, industrial mining road would traverse a vast swath of the Susitna River Watershed, an area of rich biological diversity, with abundant and sensitive fish and wildlife habitat. Several rivers and creeks are designated Recreational Rivers (Learn more about Recreational Rivers HERE).  The land is the traditional territory of the Athna and Dena’ina people and is the location of many significant cultural heritage sites. Furthermore, the proposed mining road travels near sections of the historic Iditarod Trail.

See this interactive map for locations of each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Public to Private

 

While the West Susitna Industrial Access Road was promoted widely in a video circulated by the Mat-Su Borough citing the benefits of access to public land, timber and other resources, it quickly became clear that mining was the true driver of the project and the Estelle gold claim, owned by Nova Minerals, was the destination.

 

While Phase 1 of the Understanding (passed in October of 2019) discussed a public road, Phase 2, currently on Borough Assembly members desks, describes a private, industrial mining road. (Phase 1 Study)

 

Impacts of the Road

 

The road will have impacts on the area’s important salmon and migratory bird habitats. The region is made up of wetlands and includes the western portion of the Susitna Flats Game Refuge, the top waterfowl hunting area. The waterways support abundant salmon populations. The Talachulitna River, which the road would cross, is one of the premier fishing locations in Alaska. 

 

The road would be approximately 107.9 miles and involve twenty-four bridges. Twenty of the bridges would be conventional (less than 300 feet) and four would be long-span (greater than 300 feet). A 1,200 foot bridge would be needed to cross the Hayes River, and 1,640 foot would be needed for the Susitna River. The road would require 440 culverts. Each of these bridges and culverts through wetlands and streams would impact the fish and wildlife they sustain upstream and downstream. 

 

A “Road to Resources[1]” west of the Susitna River would benefit resource extraction corporations. The Phase 2 MOU states that the proposed road is ‘non-exclusive,’ meaning that it could be used for other mining and extraction purposes. The road would traverse close to the proposed Chulitna coal project, and would parallel much of the proposed Donlin gas line[2]. The West Susitna Mining Road lays the ground for a milieu of projects of significant concern to Alaskans.

There has been no formal economic analysis done to determine the costs, benefits and impacts of the proposed road and associated large scale mining, or how it compares to the current economic activity that relies on wild habitat. It is not known if a mining road, with or without public access, would benefit residents of the Mat-Su or Alaska. A road of this scale warrants through planning and public engagement.

 

Lack of Opportunities for Public Input

 

There has been a near-total lack of opportunity for public input on a road that would impact salmon-bearing streams, cultural heritage sites, remote homesteads, lodges and regional tourism. Road access to 1/3 of the land in the Mat-Su Borough warrants thorough planning and robust stakeholder engagement. It is paramount that there is a robust public process facilitated by the Mat-Su Borough before any further action is taken towards the mining road. Thus far, there have been no public hearings scheduled.

 

Take Action

 

The Borough Assembly could vote to adopt Phase 2 of the MOU as early as their June 2nd or June 16th assembly meeting.

 

We encourage Mat-Su Borough Residents and land owners to contact the Borough Mayor and their Borough Assembly Person to request an advertised, in-person public hearing on the proposed mining road prior to any decision-making or further steps. (Solely online engagement, as was practiced during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, is not an adequate method to engage rural and remote stakeholders.)

 

Provided below is contact information for the Borough Mayor and elected Borough Assembly people.

 

Vern Halter: Borough Mayor

Phone: (907) 495-1197 or (907) 861-7845

Email:Vern.Halter@matsugov.us

 

Tim Hale: District 1

Phone: (907) 590-8243 

Email: TimHaleDistrict1@gmail.com Vern.Halter@matsugov.us

 

Stephanie Nowers: District 2

Phone: (907) 831-6299

Fax: (907) 861-7845

Email: StephanieNowersDistrict2@gmail.com

 

George McKee: District 3

Phone: (907) 373-3630

Email: george.mckee@matsugov.us

 

Ted Leonard: District 4

Phone: (907) 373-2860; (907) 351-7010

Email: tedleonarddistrict4@gmail.com

Dan Mayfield: District 5

Phone: (907) 892-7406

Fax: (907) 861-7845

Email: dan.mayfield@matsugov.us

 

Jessie Sumner: District 6

Phone: (907) 715-7388

Email: jessesumnerdistrict6@gmail.com

 

Tam Boeve: District 7

Phone: (907) 354-6744

Email: tamboevedistrict7@gmail.com

 

 

Stewarding the Susitna Watershed

Susitna River Coalition is a group of Alaskans who steward the Susitna River Watershed, formed to oppose the construction of the Susitna-Watana Dam. The road and associated resource extraction would have tremendous impact on the Susitna and other watersheds, and in addition, could lead to increased industry pressure for the Susitna-Watana dam, as there is not enough natural gas available to power all of the resource-extraction projects proposed in the area. We are concerned about the long range implications of the West Susitna Mining Road for many reasons. Its impacts to the robust salmon-bearing waters, it’s impacts to other fish and wildlife habitat, the large-scale mines it would facilitate, and it’s potential to increase industry pressure for a dam.

Rather than rampant resource extraction, Susitna River Coalition, with over 24,000 grassroots members, advocates for a different vision for stewarding the lands and waters that sustain us. We work to collectively care for the thriving habitats that sustain our lives and economies. [Read more: Susitna Watershed Economies]

We question the benefit of constructing a private mining road through a vast swath of the Mat-Su Borough and have numerous concerns as to the public process, impacts of the road, as well as impact of the resource extraction projects. Susitna River Coalition remains a watchdog on this project, advocating for the healthy and wild Susitna Watershed ecosystems and economies.

 

[1] The West Susitna Mining road is among those in the Parnell Administration’s ‘Roads to Resources’ plan which includes the Ambler Mining Road. There are many similarities between the two projects, and they involve many of the same players.

[2] The Donlin mine which, if built, involves a gas line through much of the Susitna Watershed and one of the world’s largest open pit mines in the Kuskokwim Watershed, and is being driven by Nova Gold, a sister company of Nova Minerals. There has been growing local and non-local resistance to the project.

 

 

 
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©2020 by Susitna River Coalition.